Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-C: Fragrance of Memories

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

(previous)

It was a windy autumn afternoon at the University’s main road, where several student clubs were setting up booths and vying for the wanderers’ attention. One such student, a girl with pitch-black bowl-cut hair and a brown leather coat, was casually strolling along, on the lookout for anything that may interest her. She then noticed someone familiar standing in front of the Cosplay Club booth.

A tall girl, with green hair, a matching leaf-like tube top, and a rainbow-coloured transparent petal skirt with ruby heels. She felt intimidated by her figure, but felt comforted upon seeing her serenely smiling face. She wondered if, after all this time, she still recognized her.

“Hi,” she told the girl at the booth. “Are you Lydia Li?”

“Yes,” she responded, her eyes brightening. “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

She put her finger to her cheek, trying to remember. “The music festival a few years ago, am I correct?”

The bowl-haired girl was excited. “Yes, indeed!”

She sighed dreamily. “I could never forget that day. You were so beautiful in that red dress, and your rendition of Fragments of Memories was so captivating. I wondered if I’d ever see you again, and now here you are!”

“I’m flattered,” Lydia said in a breezy, yet deadpan tone as the girl’s heart raced. “Hmm…what was your name again?”

Her heart sunk. She didn’t remember? “Um, Sa…”

Lydia held up a finger in inspiration. “Wait, Sayaka, right?”

Sayaka gasped, pleased that she even managed to pronounce it correctly. “Yes, Sayaka Akihara!”

“Pleasant surprise seeing you here,” Lydia remarked. “Still working that guitar of yours?”

“Yes,” Sayaka replied. “I just got started in the Music program here. I hope by the time I finish, I’ll be ready to take the world by storm!”

Lydia giggled. “I’m sure you will.”

“What are you taking, Lydie?”

“Computer Science.”

Sayaka was shocked. “Wow, you’re really talented. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I get that a lot,” Lydia remarked.

She then noticed the boy beside her looking at her impatiently. “Oh, right,” she said. “Sorry, gotta get back to business. Anyway, are you interested in signing up for the Cosplay Club?”

“Um, sure, I guess I could give it a try.”

“Ever had a character you wanted to dress up as?” Lydia asked encouragingly.

Sayaka stared at her nervously. “Um, not really. I don’t know much about fashion.”

“Doesn’t matter. Just come as you are. We’ll come up with a dream outfit together…”

She grabbed a tree branch off the ground and made a swirling motion around Sayaka’s head. She chuckled.

“…and make it a reality,” she finished. “Just give us your name, your phone number, and email so we can contact you about events.”

“Wait, that’s all I have to do?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Sayaka smiled. She got out her yellow Sailor Venus pen and signed her contact info on the mailing list.

“You’re all good,” Lydia told her. “See you next week at the Club Social.”

“Will do, Lydia,” Sayaka replied. “See you around.”

As she walked away, she thought, Her skin is so perfect. I wonder how she keeps it like that.

—-

“Hi everyone,” the Club President called out to the crowd of 11 students sitting in front of her. She had long blond hair and was wearing a fancy blue dress, carrying a sword. “How about we do a little icebreaker activity to start? We’ll go around the room saying our name, what we’re studying, and our favourite character.”

Everyone nodded in agreement, though Sayaka looked nervously around the room. The students were mostly girls in frilly skirts and dresses, though she did notice a couple of sharply-dressed boys as well. Compared to everyone else, she felt ordinary and out of place.

“My name’s Genevieve, Gene for short,” the President continued. “I’m in 4th year Philosophy, and my favourite character is Saber from Fate / Zero.”

She then turned to Lydia, whose hair was brown today. She had on a blue dress and flesh-coloured leggings that was one of the outfits Sayaka instantly recognized. “Lydia, 1st year Computer Science, and of course, my one true love, Nausicaa.”

 

After others gave their introductions, the table turned towards Sayaka. “Um, my names Sayaka. I’m in 1st year Music, and my favourite character…um…”

Everyone eagerly stared at her as she racked her brain. She had a lot of favourites, but didn’t think about a specific character that often. Finally, she blurted out “Revy, from Black Lagoon.”

The others gazed at her intriguingly.

“Nice choice,” Gene chuckled. “Have you ever tried dressing as her?”

“Um, I may have thought about it a few times,” Sayaka admitted, looking at some of the skimpier outfits around her. “But, I never was that comfortable showing that much skin.”

“That’s okay,” Gene replied, smiling reassuringly. “I know our costumes can get pretty wild sometimes, but you can work on whatever makes you feel comfortable.”

Sayaka was relieved to hear that, and the table turned towards the rest of the audience. After they went through everyone, a delivery woman brought several boxes of pizza into the room and everyone’s attention suddenly shifted to the tempting smell wafting around the room.

“Now here’s the real reason we’re here today,” Gene remarked sardonically. “Let’s break for pizza!”

Everyone in the room started rushing to get pizza, though Sayaka patiently waited for others to get up before she joined the end of the line. She listened to the others talk amongst themselves, trying to find an opening to join in. However, she remained silent as she heard the girls in front of her talk about anime she never heard about. She scanned the room for other people she could join, but they were talking about their current cosplay projects, and she didn’t want to look ignorant in front of them.

After much deliberation, she finally arrived to pick up her pizza. She looked over to Lydia, who was currently talking with Gene.

“Thanks for helping us with the website,” Gene told Lydia.

“No problem,” she replied. “I was looking for an opportunity to get some programming exercise in.”

Gene giggled as she made a head-squeezing gesture. “I’m glad it was stimulating for you. The site looks really lovely now.”

Sayaka shivered. She wanted to join them, but hesitated since she didn’t want people think she was only interested in Lydia. Gene then waved at her to come join them, and she happily obliged.

“Hi,” Gene greeted. “Um, Say-AH….”

“Sah-yah-kah,” Lydia interjected.

“Right. So, Sayaka, looking forward to the year?”

“Um, yeah, of course!” she replied.

“Any costume you’re particularly interested in making?”

Sayaka paused, desperately trying to think of something. “Um…” she stuttered. “Not yet. But I would like to learn.”

She stared at the two, blushing in embarrassment. She felt like they were staring right through her.

“That’s what we’re here for!” Gene announced. “What about you, Dia?”

“Well, I thought about going as Nausicaa again,” she explained. “But then I remembered someone else I wanted to go out with this year.”

Gene raised her eyebrows. “You’re cheating on Nausicaa?”

“Oh, no,” Lydia remarked. “Like, this other chick’s hot, but it’s not like I want to, do her or anything. It’s purely platonic. No one will ever replace Nausicaa in her heart.”

Sayaka stared at her, unsure of how to respond to that.

“Well, who is this new girl?” Gene asked.

Lydia pulled out her phone, showing her and Sayaka a picture of a maiden with long, black hair. She had a long blue dress flowing over her chestplate and high-heeled boots, posed in a way that exposed her thighs and back. The other two girls gazed at her in awe. She was indeed as attractive as Lydia said.

“Shanoa, from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia,” Lydia told them. “Been wanting to recreate that outfit for a while.”

“Oh,” Gene responded. “How far along are you?”

“Haven’t done much yet. Classes have been keeping me busy. But it’s getting there, slow and steady.”

“That’s good. Can’t wait to see it.”

Sayaka sighed dreamily, imagining what Lydia would look like in Shanoa’s outfit.

—-

The room started pouring out as the sky turned dark. Sayaka wondered if she too should leave, but felt compelled to stay with Lydia. Gene was returning back to their table after conversing with a few other students.

“Well, I better get home,” Gene told the other two girls. “Hope to see you again next week, Saya.”

“I’ll try to make it,” Sayaka replied. “Bye, Gene!”

“Farewell,” Lydia said.

With Gene’s departure, Sayaka was now alone with Lydia.

“You sure stuck around for a while,” Lydia remarked.

Sayaka stared nervously at her. Was she reading her intentions?

“I’m glad you had fun,” she continued, smiling. She started to walk out of the room, and Sayaka followed. “Coming to the first workshop?”

“Um, I don’t know yet.”

Lydia’s eyebrow raised. “Why?”

Sayaka sighed. “I really appreciate the work you and Gene put into the club. But, I don’t know if I really belong here.”

“What makes you say that?”

“It’s just, everyone seems to know so much more than me. About cosplay, about style, about anime, everything.”

Lydia giggled at her remark. “What’s so funny?” she demanded.

“It’s normal,” Lydia explained. “There were many others there who were just like you; quiet, not saying anything. Gene wanted to make sure no one felt left out, so she was walking around the room to talk to everyone.”

“Yeah, she’s really nice,” Sayaka agreed.

“Trust me, many of the others are just starting out too. But after a few sessions, you’ll get the hang of it. And even if you’re not interested in fashion, you at least know how to make some nice trinkets if you ever get bored.”

“I guess it couldn’t hurt to try a workshop. Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Good to hear.”

They arrived at the bus stop, and Sayaka stopped while they stared at each other for a while.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” Lydia asked, with a curious expression on her face.

Sayaka’s heart raced. This was her opportunity, so what was she waiting for? “Do you, um, want to hang out sometime?”

She felt her voice straining to get those words out, but Lydia felt no such worry.

“Sure,” she replied, as Sayaka felt her heart squeeze. “I’m heading over to the East End to meet some friends this Friday for dinner. Would you like to come along?”

Sayaka sighed. She was hoping for a more private meeting, but she should get to know her friends. “I’d love to!” she said.

“How about we meet here at 5 pm?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. See you around, Saya.”

“See you, Lydie.”

Without a second glance, Lydia walked away. As Sayaka waited for the bus, she wondered what Lydia was really thinking.

—-

That Friday, Sayaka ran to the bus loop, but she was nowhere to be seen when she arrived. She panicked, hoping she wasn’t too late, but she then checked her watch and realized it was still 4:50. Breathing a sigh of relief, she decided to wait it out.

A long 10 minutes passed, but there was still no sign of Lydia. She was getting worried. Did she change her mind? she wondered. But after 5 more minutes of nerve-wracking anticipation, she finally saw Lydia walking towards the bus stop, chatting with a boy that had brown, fringed-style hair. She waved to her, and she smiled back.

“Hi, Lydia,” Sayaka greeted.

“Oh, hello,” Lydia replied.

The brown-haired boy greeted Sayaka with a handshake. “Hi, I’m Drew.”

“Sayaka,” she replied. “How long have you two known each other?”

Lydia and Drew stared at each other, chuckling. “Two years,” Drew said. “We went to Portlandia Secondary together.”

Sayaka was surprised to hear that name, as Lydia didn’t look like someone from an East End school. She said nothing, but instead pulled out a mirror to check her hair and adjust her braided pigtails. The two were dressed in sailor outfits reminiscent of Japanese school uniforms, with Sayaka’s eyes gravitating towards Lydia’s tiny azure miniskirt. She quickly averted her gaze, hoping no one noticed her staring.

“So, where are we headed to?” she asked.

“I’m staying with my girl Willow over the weekend,” Drew explained.

“Been a while since we last saw her,” Lydia added. “So we owe her as much.”

Sayaka breathed a sigh of relief, glad they weren’t a couple after all. The next bus finally arrived, and when they got on, there were only two empty seats left, and Drew offered the seats to the two girls. Sayaka willingly sat down, hoping Lydia would also join her.

“It’s okay,” Lydia told Drew, who sat down and turned his attention towards Sayaka while she grabbed a support pole and pulled out Persepolis.

“So, what are you studying?” he asked.

“Music,” she said quietly.

“Cool!” he exclaimed. “What instrument do you play?”

“Guitar.”

“Wow, that’s awesome! We have some spare guitars at Willow’s place, so maybe we could hear you rock out.”

Sayaka stared at him anxiously. “I’m not that good, though.”

“Neither am I!” Drew responded cheerfully. “But if Willow’s willing to put up with it, I know she’ll love to hear from you. Wanna try anyway?”

Sayaka smiled. “Sure. Anyway, what are you studying?”

“Computer Science. I’m in the same class as Dia.”

“How’s it going so far?”

Drew smiled sheepishly. “It’s tough. Little mistakes can really mess you up. Would have pulled an all-nighter trying to finish this week’s assignment if I didn’t have Lydia around to help out.”

“She sounds really smart.”

“She is. The three of us made a video game together, and she programmed most of it. She had a lot of outlandish ideas, though, so I’d like to think Willow and I helped keep the game playable.”

Drew chuckled, remembering the many arguments they had, while Sayaka fell silent. She’s accomplished so much, she thought. But what have I done?

“Hey, are you feeling okay?” Drew asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she responded, smiling. “How often do you meet with her?”

“Well, we do share the same room, so every day, I guess.”

Sayaka gasped. “What’s it like, living with her?” she asked.

“It’s all right. We have fun sometimes, but she has a habit of keeping things to herself.”

Sayaka looked up at Lydia, who was still deeply involved with her graphic novel, unperturbed by the moving and shaking bus. Yeah, she could see that.

—-

Willow rushed out to hug Drew as soon as she saw the three of them walk up to her apartment room.

“Drew! It’s so great to see you again!” she cried.

“I’ve missed you,” Drew replied. “Sorry for making you wait.”

“It’s okay. Just, try to come back more often, okay?”

Drew smiled anxiously. “It’s been a busy few weeks, but I’ll do what I can.”

Willow grinned. “Awesome. Is Dia treating you okay over there?”

“Yeah, she’s been a great help.”

She then turned to Lydia. “I’m really glad you decided to stay with him.”

“It’s no big deal,” Lydia replied.

Drew looked back at her. “I promise I’ll pay you back eventually.”

“Look, we’ve been over this,” Lydia told him. “I don’t mind covering for you. Just do your best, and that’s payment enough.”

Sayaka was unsure of what was going on, but was worried. This situation sounded familiar to her. “Wait, what’s going on between them?” she asked Willow.

“Drew’s mom is a gambling addict,” Willow explained. “He’s been trying to support her, but it’s tough for her to break that habit. So many times, she’s blown away what little money they had, even when he needed it to pay for stuff like textbooks. So Lydia agreed to pay for most of his living expenses so he can concentrate on school.”

Sayaka gazed sympathetically at Drew, having been in a similar situation herself.

“What’s your name, anyway?” Willow asked.

She suddenly snapped out of her thoughts. “Sayaka.”

“That’s a nice name,” Willow replied. “We’re cooking elk burgers out in the back. Care to join?”

“Sure!”

The four of them walked out to the backyard to greet the rest of the family on the balcony. Mr. Morningstar, a large, jolly man, was already putting together some burgers off the grill along with Rowan when they arrived.

“Wow, sis, you sure brought home a party!” Rowan remarked.

“Good thing we planned ahead,” his dad added, as he addressed Willow. “Thought your boy could use some extra meat, but the more, the merrier!”

Sayaka walked up to greet Willow’s family. “Hi, my name’s Sayaka,” she told him.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, as she shook hands with him and their dad. “I’m Rowan.”

“Make yourself at home,” Mr. Morningstar told her. “There’s plenty of room for everyone!”

They all grabbed their burgers as they sat in a circle, watching each other as they ate.

“So, how’s Atelier Yanagi doing?” Lydia asked Willow.

“Oh, it’s doing just fine!” she replied cheerfully.

Lydia looked unconvinced. “How’s it really doing?”

Willow sighed. Nothing gets past her, does it? “Business is slow,” she admitted. “I’ve been trying to get into as many booths as I can around the city, but haven’t been able to sell too much yet.”

“I see,” Lydia said. “Well, is there any way I can help? With advertising, perhaps?”

“Thanks,” Willow replied. “But you’ve already done enough. I know you’re busy, so I don’t want to give you too much extra work.”

“Oh, it’s no problem for me,” Lydia said. “I know many students who would love to have your geeky styles, so it’s just a matter of getting the word out.”

“I know, and I appreciate your attempts to advertise my store. Just, don’t tire yourself out, okay? From what Drew’s been telling me, it sounds like you’ve got a really busy schedule.”

“Don’t worry, I can manage,” Lydia remarked, though Drew looked unconvinced. They returned to their meal, and after a while, Willow started snuggling up to him. Smiling, he held her as he finished eating his burger. Sayaka smiled as she watched the scene. It was like any worries the two had completely evaporated. She hoped one day, she too would know that affection.

“Say,” Rowan interjected, gesturing at Lydia. “When did you meet Sayaka, anyway?”

Lydia prepared to speak, but she noticed Sayaka gazing at her longingly. “I’ll let her tell the story.”

Sayaka’s heart raced upon hearing those words, and she cleared her throat, excited to relay the story. “We met two years ago at the local music festival. My performance time was coming up, and I was really nervous. While I was looking at the schedule, I looked to my side and saw her, standing right there.”

She sighed dreamily. “She was the most beautiful girl I had ever met. I thought I’d introduce myself to her, but she greeted me first. Turns out she was a long-time pianist at the Festival, and when she realized she was performing after me, she asked if she could see me play my guitar. Of course, I said yes!”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “But I was scared. I hadn’t performed at the festival since I was a child, and I really didn’t want to let down my new friend. But I did. It was a good thing my parents didn’t even come to see me, because midway through my first song, I lost it. I couldn’t remember the chords I was supposed to play. People in the crowd pointed and laughed. It was awful.”

Lydia frowned in concern upon hearing Sayaka struggle to relive that memory.

“I was ready to quit. I never wanted to do this ever again.  But then, I heard her calling to me. She walked right up to the stage, and told me to get up and try again. To finish, so that the judges could properly assess my performance. It was harsh, but somehow, comforting. So I blocked out the jeers in my mind, and just focused on doing over the song, all while that beautiful princess watched and cheered me on. I’ll always be grateful to her for saving me during one of my darkest days.”

Lydia felt uncomfortable by those words. Sayaka, looking concerned, asked, “What’s wrong?”

She paused. “I appreciate the sentiment,” she told her. “I’m glad you didn’t quit after all, and I hate seeing people kick others when they’re down. But, there are times in life where no one will be able to save you, no matter how much they try. So I hope you will be ready when that happens.”

Willow and Drew looked at Lydia with concern. They both knew what she was talking about, but Sayaka just stared at her, wondering if she misspoke.

“Please continue,” Lydia added.

Sayaka paused, collecting her thoughts. “In the end, I got a B-, but the judges were surprisingly nice. They didn’t talk much about my breakdown, but instead, they discussed everything else I needed to work on. They even encouraged me to try again next year!

“Later that day, I met up with Lydia again. We talked for a bit, and to my surprise, she told me that she bombed at the music festival once as well!” she continued. The others gasped, while Lydia continued to smile.

“It’s true,” Lydia replied. “Happened when I was 14. At the time, I thought I played everything perfectly. All the notes were in place, the rhythm was precise, and I followed all the directions on the sheet music. My teacher even told me I was the fastest technique learner she ever had, so I was pretty confident. But to my surprise, I ended up with mostly B’s and B-‘s. To say the least, it was hard for me to accept back then.”

“Didn’t you say you had a particularly strict judge that year?” Willow asked.

“Yes. I talked to some of the older performers, and they told me she was really hard to please. She regularly gave out harsh assessments, and not even the most renowned performers in the community were safe. But they respected her, and after I got over myself and actually read her assessments, I understood why. She was right. Even though I was mechanically sound, it was interpretation that I failed at, because I didn’t put any passion or feeling into my performance. Nothing stood out about my music. It was all by-the-numbers. It was then that I realized I needed to change myself.”

“And then you came back the next year to win the whole thing!” Sayaka gleefully concluded.

“Yes, indeed,” Lydia replied. “It all paid off in the end.

“Say,” Drew interjected, looking at Sayaka. “How has your guitar playing been after the festival?”

“I’m still not that good yet,” she said. “But I did try playing at the festival again the next year, and I even got an A.”

“That’s pretty good if you ask me,” Willow remarked. “Would you like to play for us? I think this place could use some after-dinner music.”

“We can lend you one of our guitars,” Rowan offered.

Sayaka nodded. “Sure, I guess. What should I play?” she asked.

“Anything you’d like,” Mr. Morningstar told her. “I’ll get you all set up.”

—-

“Okay everyone,” Sayaka announced to the excited group, standing in the centre of their outdoor sound system with guitar in hand. “The song I’m about to play is from a Japanese idol group…”

Lydia suddenly frowned, and Sayaka froze. Seeing her anxiety and Willow’s disapproving stare, Lydia quickly put on a smile and gestured at her to continue. Sayaka took a deep breath before she continued.

“I know that’s not everyone’s thing, but it’s a song very close to my heart, so I hope you enjoy it too!”

The group eagerly anticipated her performance, though Lydia was secretly dreading the high-pitched bubblegum pop that was to follow. Sayaka took a few breaths, and then strung out a quick succession of booming opening chords. Everyone was taken aback at how unexpectedly loud her guitar and the backing track were, and it became quickly apparent that this was no dance pop song as she rapidly belted out chords to the fast-paced rock tune accompanying the girly Japanese vocals. Her expression changed as well; gone was the shy, quiet girl they had just recently got to know. As soon as the girl in the backing track started screaming out of the high notes of the chorus, Sayaka too shook and bobbed her head in time with the music, with a scowling, aggressive look on her face, as if she was actually singing herself. Upon the reprise of the chorus, Drew started fist-pumping and chanting “Hey!” along with her. The others started to join in, except for Lydia, who merely smiled serenely.

Finally, the aural storm began to subside as Sayaka played the final line. The room fell silent, then erupted in a huge applause. Sayaka was surprised that her performance went so well. She knew she made a few mistakes, but the others didn’t seem to mind. She bowed, almost ready to cry upon seeing their appreciative faces.

“That was great!” Drew exclaimed.

“You could probably teach Jae-Woo here a thing or two,” Willow remarked, as Drew blushed. Lydia was pleased to see her look so confident up there, and Sayaka blushed upon seeing her face.

“Thank you everyone,” Sayaka announced. “The song is called Hontou Honki by BiSH, and they’re definitely not your typical idol singers. I also sing too, but I wasn’t ready today. Sorry.”

Everyone looked at her in admiration. “Will you play for us again?” Willow asked.

“Sure!” Sayaka explained.

“Have you thought about performing at CherryCon?” Drew asked.

“Well,” Sayaka stuttered. “It’s been a while since I last performed in front of a huge crowd. But yes, that’s what I’m aiming for.”

“I’m sure you’ll do great there,” Mr. Morningstar told her, as everyone nodded in agreement. Lydia then looked at her phone, and got up after seeing a text message from her parents.

“It’s been nice seeing you all again,” she told her friends. “But, you know how my parents are.”

“Really?” Willow asked incredulously. “They’re still expecting you to come back early?”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “To them, I’m still their little Li Li,” she remarked.

“That’s too bad,” Willow said. “But I hope you can stay longer next time.”

“So do I.”

“If you’re staying for the night and need an extra bed, just let us know,” Mr. Morningstar told her.

“Thank you,” Lydia replied.

“See you on Sunday,” Drew told her.

“You too.”

Sayaka got up too, to Lydia’s surprise. “I guess I better get going too then! Thanks again everyone!”

“No, thank you!” Rowan said, which made her giggle.

They all exchanged final farewells as Lydia and Sayaka walked out to catch the bus. They were finally alone. As they waited, something came to Sayaka’s mind.

“Wait, Drew’s Korean name is Jae-Woo?” she asked.

“Yes. Park Jae-Woo.”

Sayaka became curious. “What’s your Chinese name, Lydie?”

“Lǐ Xuĕfēn.”

“That’s a nice name. What does it mean?”

“Xuĕfēn translates to ‘snow fragrance’.”

Sayaka gasped. “How fitting. My name means ‘clear fragrance’.”

She was feeling giddy. “Do you think this means, we’re destined to be together?”

Lydia paused, her expression unchanged. “It’s just a coincidence. We can never tell what the future holds.”

Sayaka was disappointed in her cold response, and said nothing more. The bus arrived, and they sat beside each other, still with nothing to say. Sayaka kept looking longingly at Lydia, but her face seemed frozen in an uncannily serene state. It was an eerily silent trip, and Sayaka wanted to say something, anything. But no words came out. It was only when the bus was approaching her destination that she finally spoke.

“Um, I have to get off soon,” she told Lydia.

Lydia stood up, and looked around. Her eyes widened as she saw the dilapidated surroundings of the region close to the downtown core. “You live here?” she asked.

“Yes, with my grandmother.”

“Oh,” Lydia said. She gazed in astonishment as Sayaka continued.

“My grandfather died recently, just before I started university. Our family wanted her to move out of this region, but she insisted on staying in the place where she was born. So I decided to live with her, so she’d have someone along with her.”

Lydia continued to say nothing, though she looked sympathetic.

“She’s very special to me. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pay for university, that I would have to take out student loans that I wasn’t sure if I could ever pay off, but she told she would use her own retirement funds to help me. I pleaded with her not to do it, but she wouldn’t change her mind.”

“Why?”

Sayaka began to cry. “Because she said that her story was nearly over, but mine was just beginning. Even though my parents refused to let me study music, she said I should be free to pursue my dreams, because if I didn’t, I’d regret it forever.”

She paused, as the bus drew closer to her destination. “She’s done so much for me, and I want to pay her back somehow. Show her that I’m not just some worthless good-for-nothing, that her belief in me won’t be in vain.”

She stopped to wipe away her tears, and was surprised to see Lydia, for the first time, looking concerned. She was still quiet, contemplating what to say. Eventually, she pulled out her cell phone and started texting something. Sayaka stared at her, wondering what she was doing, but a few seconds after she finished, she noticed a text notification in her own phone. She pulled it out, and realized that she had given her phone number and email. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“Just, call or email me if you need anything,” Lydia told a stunned Sayaka. “Whether it be money, advice, or just someone to talk to, I’ll be here for you. I promise.”

Tears started welling up once again Sayaka suddenly rushed to hug her. Lydia was taken aback, surprised at how strong her grip was, but she felt a warm feeling in her heart as she returned the gesture, patting her head to console her. They held on until the bus slowed down and called out the next stop. Sayaka seemed reluctant to let go, but slowly loosened her arms. She wiped away her tears as she prepared to walk out.

“See you around, Lydia,” she said, waving to her.

“Farewell for now, until we meet again,” Lydia replied.

As she walked away into the darkness, Lydia remained motionless at the door, even as the bus started moving, so she could see her leave. She waited until she was completely out of her field of vision before she returned to take an empty seat, isolated from everyone else, and closed her eyes.

(table of contents)

Advertisements

Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-10: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Stacy?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

(previous)

Clouds filled the sky above Pollock Secondary yard this Friday afternoon, but if it was supposed to be a dreary day, Tori did not feel so. Today was a special day for her, and she embraced the cooler weather as she did some sketches under the giant maple tree as it shed its last leaves. She giggled as one of the leaves blew in her face, and prepared to brush it off just as she heard the front door of the school open.

“Hey, Tori,” Oliver called out. “You sure got here early.”

Tori smiled sweetly. “Yes, we were lucky class finished early today,” she replied. “I’ve been working on a surprise for all of you.”

Everyone’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, whatcha got?” Stacy asked.

Tori laid her sketchbook on the ground, showing a picture of a brown-haired boy in the forest wearing a vest. He was proudly lifting a gem-encrusted dagger as he ran away, accompanied by a tiger. Oliver gazed at the picture wide-eyed in amazement.

“Hey, that’s me!” he cried. “This is amazing. Thanks, Tori!”

“You’re welcome,” Tori said. “And that’s not all.”

She turned the page to a futuristic metropolis, showing a girl in pink armour and rollerblades grinding the industrial rails. A whirlwind of cherry blossoms and a large dragonfly flew around her.

“Oh wow, I look so cool!” Cheryl remarked. “Thanks for doing this!”

Tori smiled, turning the page once more. “And this is me.”

She was standing at the centre of a lake in the meadow in a pastoral dress, singing to the birds, butterflies, and flowers around her. The other three continued to admire the detail she put into this series of manga-inspired pictures.

“It’s been three months since I first joined the club,” Tori explained. “I thought it would be nice to commemorate our time together by drawing my closest friends. And maybe, it’ll help get me closer to finding my own style.”

“Well, I may not have much artistic talent,” Cheryl remarked. “But these sure are stylish to me.”

“You’ve always got us beat in the art department,” Stacy added. “Say, what about me?”

Tori’s heart sunk, seeing her face so full of anticipation. “Um…” she murmured, holding the page. “I haven’t finished yours yet.”

Stacy felt a pang in her chest while the other two flinched in disappointment. “Why not?” she asked.

Tori was sweating. “Um, I’m still working on it,” she explained. “I didn’t forget about you, but, um, I just had trouble coming up with something.”

Stacy looked down at the ground upon hearing that, and Tori desperately tried to defuse the situation. “I didn’t mean it that way! It’s just, I had so many ideas for you, and I’m still trying to decide what to go with!  Please don’t be mad. It’s coming. I promise!”

Stacy looked up, smiling. “It’s fine,” she said, her voice about to crack. “Good art takes time, right? I’m sure you’ll come up with something good.”

She looked at her watch. “Oh crap, I almost forgot. Sorry guys, I’ve got to go. Have a good weekend, everyone!”

The other three were initially puzzled, but then Oliver remembered the occasion. “Have fun at your music lessons!” he called out.

“I’ll try,” Stacy replied, sweating nervously as she strapped on her helmet. “Anyway, bye!”

“Bye!” the other three said.

As she rode off on her bike, Oliver and Cheryl turned to a depressed-looking Tori.

“I screwed up again, didn’t I?” she told them.

“Hey, don’t worry,” Oliver consoled her. “I’m sure Stacy understands.”

“It’s just,” Tori continued. “She’s our leader. She deserves something special for bringing us all together. And yet, I let her down.”

Cheryl, noticed how sad Tori looked, thought of a way to resolve this conundrum. “Hey, you said you had a lot of ideas for her picture, right?”

“Uh-huh,” Tori replied.

“So,” Cheryl said. “Would you mind if we helped you with that drawing? After all, Stacy’s done a lot for all of us.”

Oliver grinned. “I think I know something Stace might like. There’s this cartoon called Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld that she’s been bragging about recently.”

Cheryl was curious. “I didn’t know Stacy was the princess type.”

Oliver showed her and Tori a picture of the titular Amethyst. “She has a sword.”

“Ah, like He-Man!”

Oliver chuckled nervously, now having some weird mental image of Prince Adam in a frilly dress.

“She is quite pretty,” Tori observed. “It would be fun to draw her in an outfit like that.”

She grabbed a pencil and started tracing Amethyst’s body while Oliver and Cheryl watched, curious as to what would result.

—-

Stacy sighed in relief as she parked her bike at Hopper Elementary. Got five minutes to spare, she thought, as she stood at the front doors. Not much has changed. I wonder how everyone’s doing.

After some deliberation, she opened the door. Okay, room 205. Where is that?

She spent a few minutes aimlessly wandering the second floor until Ms. Myska suddenly peeked outside her front door. Drat, Stacy thought. How did I miss that?

“Hi, Ms. Myska,” Stacy said cheerfully. “Long time no see!”

“Yes, it’s been a while,” she replied nonchalantly. “Did you sign in downstairs?”

“Um, no,” she said, her voice shaking. “I’ll do that right away.”

“No need,” Ms. Myska stated. “We’ll take care of that afterwards. The kids are waiting for you.”

Stacy chuckled anxiously as they walked into the room. She was greeted by a cacophony of hyperactive kids on the floor, who were talking amongst themselves. Out of the chatter, she managed to overhear a mention of Splatoon, and smiled.

“Hello class,” Ms. Myska announced. The kids ignored her and continued chattering, so she repeated, in a booming voice, “Hello, Class!!”

The class suddenly fell silent, curious about this weird-looking girl who showed up.

“That’s better,” Ms. Myska said. “Today, we have a special guest. Please give a warm welcome to Anastasia Nazarenko.”

The kids giggled at the sound of her name while Stacy blushed in embarrassment

“Stacy,” she whispered insistently to Ms. Myska. “It’s Stacy.”

“Very well,” she whispered back before turning to the class again. “Stacy has come all the way from Pollock Secondary to teach you music, so you best be on her best behaviour.”

The class whispered amongst themselves, which caused Ms. Myska to yell “Attention, class!” once again. Even after all these years, Stacy was impressed that someone so small could be so loud.

“Anyway, Stacy,” Ms. Myska continued. “Could you tell the class a little about yourself? Like, what are your favourite things?”

Stacy swallowed to clear her throat. “Let’s see,” she began.

Girls with frilled skirts and megaton lasers,

Boys with tight pants, they make my heart waver,

Giant robots that have cities to wring,

These are a few of my favourite things!”

Ms. Myska looked bewildered as Stacy made a fisting motion for the last two lines. She was not expecting that kind of response from her. Noticing her expression, Stacy stopped singing.

“Um, should I continue?” Stacy asked.

Ms. Myska shook her head. “I think we got the point, thank you.”

Stacy chuckled, hoping she didn’t completely embarrass herself already. She looked around the room, and saw the children looking bewildered. A pair of girls were whispering to each other, but most eyes were on her.

Well, at least I got their attention, she thought.

—-

“So, what do you think?”

Tori had drawn a quick concept sketch of Stacy clad in a minidress and shiny leggings, holding her sword up high towards the moon. The other two looked at it with a curious expression on their faces. Something was off about the drawing.

“Stacy looks weird without glasses,” Oliver told her, and Cheryl nodded in agreement.

“Oh,” Tori replied. “Well, Amethyst didn’t have glasses.”

“I know, but it just doesn’t look like Stacy without them,” Oliver explained. “I rarely see her take them off.”

“Me neither,” Cheryl said. “I think we should keep them.”

Tori put her hand to her head, thinking about it. “I understand. It wouldn’t be the same without them.”

The other two nodded as she hastily added Stacy’s glasses to the drawing. “How’s that?”

“That’s more like it,” Oliver told her.

Tori smiled. “So what colour should we make her dress?”

Cheryl was reminded of the green outfit she wears to roller derby practice. “How about jade?”

“Jade does look good on her,” Oliver concurred. “And it would be a nice contrast to amethyst.”

Tori quickly coloured in her dress with a jade green pencil crayon, making her leggings cyan to match.

“I know it looks kind of messy right now,” Tori said. “But I need some time to polish it up. Hopefully, I can get it done by the weekend.”

“Take your time,” Cheryl told her. “I’m sure Stacy will understand even if it takes longer than expected.”

“Better a delayed drawing than a rushed one,” Oliver added.

Tori was comforted by her friends’ responses. She turned back to her drawing, looking at it curiously. “You know, I just realized something. Superheroes often have secret identities, right? To the public, they’re just ordinary men and women.”

“Yeah,” Oliver responded. “Whatcha getting at?”

“I can’t help thinking, maybe Stacy’s the same way.”

Oliver and Cheryl looked quizzically at Tori, who swallowed, organizing her thoughts, before continuing.

“We know how Stacy tries to be all smiles and cheers, right? Doing whatever she can to make us have fun in the club?”

Cheryl and Oliver nodded, their faces a mix of smiles and chuckles as they remembered Stacy’s antics.

“Yet,” Tori continued. “she seems to get upset easily. And even though she tries to hide it, I always sense this, sadness from her. She was crying, a lot when we talked about her dad.”

The other two frowned in concern, all too familiar with what she was talking about.

“I hope it doesn’t sound insensitive,” Tori concluded. “But I’d like to capture Stacy’s whole personality in the drawing. Would that be a good idea?”

Cheryl and Oliver looked at each other, thinking of what to say.

“Well,” Oliver began, pointing at the drawing. “It’s like you said, heroes have secret identities. Maybe we could also include Stacy herself in the picture along with her magical princess self.”

Oliver suddenly got an idea. “And we could call her Princess Anastasia!”

Cheryl and Tori rejoiced as they imagined the two Stacies together. “But wait, doesn’t she hate that name?” Cheryl pointed out.

“We can redeem it for her, can’t we?” Oliver responded.

“It’s a lovely name,” Tori agreed. “She shouldn’t hate it as much as she does.”

Cheryl had another idea. “We could show her comforting Stacy and giving her hope.” She grinned as she continued. “And since she’s the one who brought us all together, how about we also show her giving the rest of us our powers?”

Tori’s eyes widened in excitement. “Yeah, that’s perfect!”

She started frantically sketching so she’d remember everything. “Thanks so much, you two! With your ideas, I think we can make something truly special for Stacy.”

—-

Do, a deer, a female deer,

Re, a drop of golden sun,”

Stacy was playing the classic song on the piano, trying to encourage the kids to sing along with her, but they just stared at her blankly. She was getting annoyed, but she tried to keep up her smile.

“Heh, guess it’s a bit too old for you guys,” she remarked sheepishly.

“They play this song all the time,” a girl complained. “We’re tired of it.”

Stacy stopped to regain her composure. “What’s your name?”

“Nabila,” she said.

“Well, Nabila…” she said, trying to think of an alternative. “You’ve never heard it like…this before!”

She placed her hands on the piano, but started singing a capella.

“Do, you know like Homer Simpson, D’oh!”

As she smacked her forehead, the kids laughed. Stacy, realizing she was on to something, continued while introducing the accompaniment.

Rei, my favourite Sailor Scout!

Mi, part of, A-mi, Yu-mi!

Fa, the warrior Fa Mulan!”

The kids listened in awe, and each line excited a different part of the audience as they recognized the characters she was singing about. Stacy realized she was on to something, took a quick breath, and kept going.

“Sol, is Latin for the Sun!

“La, when you can’t think of anything else to sing!

“Ti, yes bubble tea is great!”

“That brings us back to…”

Stacy immediately pointed towards the kids, and they slapped their heads in unison, singing Homer’s D’oh in scattered pitches. Stacy smiled as they giggled.

“That didn’t even rhyme!” Nabila pointed out though her chuckles.

“Well, I made it up just now,” Stacy admitted, as several of the kids gasped in amazement. “Anyway, now that I’ve got you listening, how about we sing for real? Don’t just listen the words. Follow along to the sound of my voice as well!”

In the corner of the room, Ms. Myska was frowning. She was expecting a tutor, not a clown. Stacy noticed her icy expression from the corner of her eye, and froze, unsure of whether she should continue.

“C’mon,” Nabila encouraged her. “What are you waiting for?”

Wow, she’s really eager, Stacy thought. She was a bit embarrassed to be receiving commands from a little girl, but at the same time, she appreciated her enthusiasm. Boldened by her words, she started singing again. “Do, like Homer Simpson, D’oh!”

Soon, others joined in. “Rei, my favourite Sailor Scout,”

Got ‘em, she thought, grinning.

“Mi, part of, AmiYumi

Fa, the Warrior Fa Mulan!”

—-

“Okay, I think we’ve done enough for today,” Tori announced, as she put down her pencil and closed her sketchbook. “Thanks again, guys, but I have to go. Mother will be upset if I’m late for dinner.”

Oliver sighed in relief. “Let us know how it turns out!” he told her.

“We’re here to help if you need any other ideas,” Cheryl reminded her.

“Thanks,” Tori said. “Goodbye, everyone!”

She began running off to catch the bus, as Cheryl and Oliver smiled at each other, satisfied with how Stacy’s drawing was progressing. But suddenly, she turned around just as she reached the bus stop.

“One more thing,” she demanded. “Don’t tell Stacy, okay? Not until it’s done!”

She did a twirl as she turned to face the arriving school bus, while Oliver and Cheryl looked at her in shock.

“Wasn’t expecting that from Tori,” Oliver commented.

“Me neither,” Cheryl concurred.

—-

“Ti, yes bubble tea is great!”

“That brings us back to, D’oh!”

Everyone was beginning to sound more synchronized as the kids made various over-exaggerated D’oh! gestures to Stacy’s amusement.

“Good job, guys,” she commented. “You all sound great!”

Suddenly, the bell rang, and Stacy saw several parents at the door. “Well, that’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed the lesson, and maybe I’ll see some of you on stage someday!”

“You sure about that?” Nabila asked, unconvinced. “Or are you just telling us that to make us feel better?”

Stacy frowned. Tough crowd, she thought. “Well, obviously, you have to work hard at it,” she responded. “But it doesn’t hurt to dream big, to envision the future you want for yourself, so you can motivate yourself to go for it!”

Nabila listened intently. The children were all bright-faced, entranced by Stacy’s enthusiasm.

“And maybe not all of you are interested in performing,” she continued. “But that’s okay. I hope you seen, er, heard how fun making music can be, and you’ll keep enjoying it in whatever way you desire. And remember, be nice to Ms. Myska!”

Their teacher cracked a small smile at that remark. She noticed them preparing to leave, and gestured for them to stop. “Anyway, what should we say to Stacy?”

“Thank You!” the kids announced in unison.

Stacy heard plenty of chatter as the parents took their kids out of the room. Eventually, when there was only Nabila left, Ms. Myska turned to Stacy.

“How’d I do?” she asked, shaking anxiously.

“I must say,” Ms. Myska began. “You have a very, unorthodox style of teaching.”

Stacy frowned. “Is that a euphemism?”

“Well…”

Nabila suddenly joined in the conversation. “Can we have Stacy here again? Please?” she asked her teacher.

“…the kids seemed to like it.” Ms. Myska concluded. “So whatever you did worked.”

Stacy had a large grin on her face. “Glad to be of service.”

“And since Nabi here asked so politely, would you like to come back again next term?”

Stacy gasped. “Really?”

“Yes,” Ms. Myska responded. “We’re a bit short on teachers here, so not all the students really get a chance to learn music properly. If we have time, you’d really be a great help.”

Stacy’s heart was pounding. “I’ll have to check my schedule, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can!”

“Yay!” Nabila cried.

Ms. Myska smiled. “Thanks a lot, Stacy. I look forward to seeing you around.”

“You too!” Stacy said.

Finally, Nabila’s mother arrived, accompanied by her brother.

“Sorry I’m late,” her mother said.

“It’s okay, mama,” she told her. “Stacy was really fun.”

“I’m so happy to hear that,” she said, while her brother looked at Stacy intriguingly. “I’m Maya, by the way.”

Stacy walked up to shake her hand. “Stacy.”

Nabila’s brother’s eyes lit up at that name. “Hey, aren’t you Nick and Ian’s cousin?” he asked.

Nabila looked oddly at Stacy, who walked up to shake his hand. “Yep. Ahmed, right?”

“Yep,” Ahmed said. “Your cousins have told me you’re quite the gamer. Care to prove it sometime?”

Stacy smirked. “Any time.”

Ahmed laughed. “Well, I can’t wait to see.”

“Can I join in too?” Nabila asked. “I’m a great gamer.”

Stacy and Ahmed smiled. “Of course!”

“Yay!”

She extended her arms to hug Stacy, who returned the favour. Before the family started to leave, the three of them exchanged phone numbers and emails so they could set a time later.

“Bye, Stacy!” Nabila called out.

“See you soon,” Stacy called back.

Ms. Myska was pleased to see the girls get along so well. Though Stacy was still quite odd to her, she was looking forward to seeing what she’d come up with next term.

—-

The next Monday morning, the last maple leaf began to fall in the courtyard of Pollock Secondary. The Games for Everyone club and several other students, crowded around to see it happen. Their eyes were locked to the leaf’s trajectory as it whirled around a bit, then peacefully drifted downwards to join the others. Staring at the now bare tree, Stacy looked on in regret.

“Looks like term’s ending soon,” Stacy remarked, sighing. “And we didn’t really do much as a club, did we? Guess I should have planned things better.”

“Aw, c’mon, Stacy,” Oliver retorted. “I don’t know about everyone else, but I had fun.”

“I did too,” Cheryl added. “It was fun just chilling with you all every week at lunch.”

“Still,” Stacy said, smiling. “I can always be better, right?”

“Look, Stacy,” Cheryl replied. “You’ve done enough for us already, just by bringing us together.”

“I’m glad you went through with the club after all,” Oliver added. “And didn’t listen to Lucas.”

Stacy looked around to see all her friends smiling for her. “Thanks, guys,” she told them.

“I never had friends like all of you before,” Tori said, looking up as she finished sketching the falling maple leaf. “I’m really glad you accepted me.”

“Of course!” Stacy told her. “You’ve done a lot for us too, with all those lovely drawings you’ve done of our time together.”

Tori’s eyes perked up, suddenly reminded of something. “I almost forgot. I’m still working on that drawing. Sorry I couldn’t get it to you today, but we’re trying to make it the best we can.”

Stacy’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh yeah, the drawing. Yeah, take your time. I can wait. But in the meantime, could you at least give me a clue as to what you all have planned?”

Tori smiled mischievously. “We can’t tell you much right now, except I’m doing what I can to make it totally perfect. But it’ll be worth it. I promise.”

Stacy beamed. “I’m sure it will be.”

The bell rang, and all the students in the yard started walking towards the front doors. As the foursome arrived, Stacy turned towards her friends.

“Well, we don’t have many days left before exams, so let’s all buckle down and do our best!” she announced. “May the odds be ever in our favour!”

“Indeed!” the other three exclaimed in unison.

Following the other students into the door, a huge flock of crows flew overhead, cawing out loudly. Everyone was filled with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, knowing that the term was coming to an end and they only had their finals left to decide their fates. And yet, something was telling them that in the end, everything was going to be all right.

(next)

(table of contents)

Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-B: Princess of Portlandia (Part 2)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

(previous)

Content warning: Sexual harassment

Willow and Rowan had textile class the next morning, and were nearly finished their term project.

“And…done!” Willow exclaimed triumphantly as she finished sewing the final pieces together.

Rowan sighed in relief. “I can’t wait to show this to Dad!”

“Me too,” Willow concurred.

Their teacher, Mr. Garcia, looked impressed by their creation.

“That’s an intriguing pattern you got there,” he said.

“It’s based on the story of Raven stealing the sun,” Rowan explained, pointing to the shining yellow jewel in Raven’s beak.

Mr. Garcia’s eyes lit up in amazement. “Glad to see you two being so ambitious,” he told them.

Willow smiled. “I’d like to do this for a living someday.”

“Well, you’re already off to a good start,” Mr. Garcia said. “Keep it up.”

The bell then rang as class was dismissed and they waved goodbye. The siblings folded their quilt to put in Willow’s bag as they walked down the hallway.

“Say, bro,” Willow said. “I’ve got another project in mind, and I’m scouting for supplies this weekend. Interested in coming?”

“Sorry, I can’t,” Rowan answered. “Wisteria’s taking us hiking this weekend.”

Willow frowned. “That’s too bad.”

“What are you planning to make, anyway?” Rowan inquired.

“Um, it’s an idea I got from a friend…” Willow replied.

Before she could finish, they saw Lydia walking briskly out of the IB Physics classroom. Holding the door for her was a light-skinned boy with brown hair and narrow glasses, who then proceeded to follow her, leering at her miniskirt.

“Oh dear,” Willow whispered to Rowan, who nodded as they both groaned and stepped out of his view. “That guy.”

“So, Lily,” the boy said. “Wanna hang out at my place tonight? I’ve got Mario Party!”

“No,” Lydia flatly declared.

“Aw, c’mon, I thought you loved video games,” the boy coaxed.

“I already said I’m not interested, Tom,” Lydia reaffirmed.

Tom sighed. “Why do you have to treat me like this, my dear? I held the door open for you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, what a heroic effort on your part,” Lydia remarked coldly. “And please don’t call me dear.”

He gasped dreamily. “Oh, Lily, I love it when you play hard to get.”

“Actually, I think you’re annoying, and I wish to be left alone, thank you very much.”

“Then why are you wearing that tiny skirt?”

He grinned, and Lydia instinctively sidestepped away from him. “Because I don’t care what you think.”

His eyes widened in pity. “I’m just trying to protect you, my princess! You shouldn’t dress like that if you want to be left alone, you know.”

Lydia said nothing, but continued walking. Willow, having had enough of this scene, interjected.

“Why don’t you go annoy someone else, Tom?”

Tom looked at Willow and Rowan, sneering. “Oh look, someone’s jealous of the attention Lily’s getting. Too bad! She’s far much more pretty and talented than you’ll ever be.”

Willow froze. Was that really why she was trying to talk to Lydia? Because she was everything she could never be? She worried then about how genuine her desire for friendship was. Rowan, noticing how upset she was, scowled at Tom, but Lydia gestured at him to stop, as she had arrived at her next class. She promptly walked inside, and the Morningstar siblings, feeling powerless, decided to leave as well. Though they tried to walk away quickly, they still had to hear Tom call out to Lydia in his sickeningly sweet tone of voice.

“See you later, my sweet China doll!”

—-

During lunch hour, Willow was in the library reading Nausicaa. She smiled as she finished the second volume, and as she put the book down, she also noticed Lydia tucked away in a corner of the room, intensely focused on her laptop. Curious, she decided to walk up to her.

“Hi, Dia,” she greeted.

“Hello, Willow,” Lydia replied, noticing she had the Nausicaa manga in hand. “Are you enjoying the manga?”

“Yes,” Willow said. “It’s quite different from the movie.”

“Of course. That’s what makes it so interesting.”

Willow paused. “Um, about this morning…”

“Don’t listen to that idiot,” Lydia interjected. “You’re cute.”

Willow sighed. “I’ll never be as pretty as you.”

“Anyone can be pretty,” Lydia told her. “You just need to be true to yourself and find the outfit that suits you best.”

Willow suddenly became more conscious of her wider body. “Um, Lydia, I know you’re trying to help, but, well, that’s easy for you to say. I don’t have the money to buy clothes like yours.”

“I can try to help you find something,” Lydia offered. “I’ll even pay for everything.”

“Thanks, but you don’t have to do this for me,” Willow replied. “I’ll find something eventually.”

She had a worried expression on her face as her mind returned to what she originally wanted to say. “How long did you have to put up with Tom?”

“He’s been annoying me since the start of the year,” Lydia replied. “I tried telling our professor, and he said he’d deal with him, but, nothing.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” Willow retorted.

Lydia raised her eyebrow. “You’ve met him before?”

“Yeah, he’s the leader of our anime club, and many of us had to quit because of their skeevy antics. But teachers love bragging about he’s a model student, always engaged in class and being a great leader to the kids.”

“I know. The other guys keep telling me I’m just overreacting, that he’s really a nice guy, and I should just give him a chance.”

Lydia cackled softly. “And then they call me a slut when they think I’m not listening.”

Willow was concerned at how casually she seemed to be talking about it. “Have you told anyone else about him?”

Lydia’s smile seemed to crack. “Tried telling Ms. Khorrami. She spent a lot of time arguing with the administration to do something about him, but to no avail. I didn’t want her to be more stressed, especially since she has many other students to take care of, so I decided I would deal with him myself from then on.”

Willow frowned. “You shouldn’t have to,” she protested. “There’s got to be something I can do to help.”

“I appreciate your concern,” she told her. “And thank you for standing up for me this morning. But I don’t see what else you can do right now.”

Willow sighed. “Well, if you ever feel like venting about him some more, just let me know. I’m always here if you need an ear.”

Lydia smiled. “Thank you.”

She returned to her laptop, and Willow was intrigued by the sight of a village drawing. “What are you working on, anyway?”

Lydia’s eyes lit up. “It’s an adventure game I’m working on.”

She then turned towards Willow, giving her usual serene smile. “Imagine you could live in a place without suffering or pain. A sanctuary, where you would be forever safe from the evils and horrors of the world. However, there is one caveat: You can never leave, and you would know nothing of the outside world. Would you be happy with such an existence?”

Willow pondered that question. “It depends on who else is living there. I might be, if I were surrounded by nice and interesting people. It might get boring after a while, though.”

Lydia was carefully listening Willow’s response. “Well, in the game, you are an outsider to the village, trying to learn its secrets, such as how it came to be. Your actions influence the villagers and their opinion of you, and you can ultimately decide in the end whether to stay or leave. Would you like to try?”

Willow smiled. “I’d love to!”

Lydia took out a USB and gave it to Willow. “Let me know how your experience goes.”

“Will do, Dia.”

Lydia, content, returned to her laptop. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a glint of amber.

“Say,” she began. “That’s a nice quilt you got there.”

Willow beamed. “Yeah, my brother and I made it.”

“You two are quite talented. Got any other projects in mind?”

Willow thought about her question. “Um, I’m heading to the fabric store this Saturday afternoon to fetch more supplies. Project’s a secret.”

“That’s interesting.”

Suddenly, the bell rang. Lydia folded up her laptop, and walked out the door.

“See you around, Willow.”

Willow was stunned that she referred to her by name. “See you, Dia.”

—-

Willow was overjoyed to finally find the deep blue cloth she was looking for after much searching. Pleased, she put it in her cart and headed for the counter to pay. It was too bad; there were so many other interesting fabrics in the store, but she needed to control herself. To her surprise, when she did get to the line, she saw a cart stocked with a wide variety of fabric patterns, ribbons, thread, and more, all belonging to a familiar face.

“Um, hi Dia,” she greeted.

“Hello,” she replied.

“What brings you here?”

“Getting material to make some dresses with.”

Willow gazed at the near overflowing cart. “Isn’t that a bit much?”

“It’s always good to have more options in case something doesn’t work out.”

Willow sighed. It must be nice to be rich, she thought as Lydia talked with the cashier.

“By the way,” Lydia asked. “Could you also add the next cart to the bill?

“Sure!” the cashier responded, while Willow stared at Lydia, with mouth agape.

“You don’t have to, Lydia,” she protested.

“I know,” she replied. “Think of it as an opportunity to get something nice for yourself or your family.”

Willow reluctantly handed her stuff over to Lydia, who, as promised, pulled out a few hundred dollar bills to pay for the lot. She placed Willow’s supplies in one of her personal bags, separate from her own supplies, for Willow to pick up. They walked together to the bus stop, and suddenly, Lydia also prepared to handed her own supplies to Willow, who was shocked.

“It’s all yours,” she said.

Willow gasped. “No, I can’t accept this.”

“Why not?” Lydia asked.

“You should keep it, for your own projects,” Willow told her. “You’ve already done me a huge favour.

“It’s not a problem,” Lydia explained. “I have plenty of material at home already, and you look like you could make better use of it. Have fun!”

Willow paused, catching her breath. “But why are you doing this for me?”

Lydia continued to smile. “It’s the least I could do for a friend.”

Willow stared at her. “But I thought you said…”

“Yes,” she interjected. “I said I didn’t need friends.”

Her bus then arrived to take her home to the West Side. “Til we meet again,” she told Willow.

Still shocked at Lydia’s gift, Willow gave her a small wave back. “See you, Dia. And thanks for everything.”

—-

A partially cut lavender cloth lay on part of Willow’s table at home as she played through Lydia’s game. She was currently wandering aimlessly around the village, having already talked to everyone and with no clue what to do next. Getting increasingly frustrated, she got up and started pacing. Just then, Rowan barged into her room with a bundle of black feathers.

“Hey sis,” he said. “Thought I’d give you a little something for that dress you’re making.”

Willow gasped. “You didn’t pluck those feathers, did you?”

Rowan shook his head. “Nope. Been collecting stray feathers for a while, but now it’s time to put them to good use.”

Willow smiled. “Thanks, bro. I’ll take good care of them.”

Rowan gazed at Willow’s computer screen. “Whatcha playing?”

“Just play-testing a game Lydia made.”

“Wow, she’s really interested in you, isn’t she?”

“I suppose,” she said, gesturing towards the mounds of fabric and sewing material. “This was all from her.”

Rowan was shocked. “She gave you all this?”

“Yep.”

Rowan stood silently, stunned. “Can’t believe she did that for you,” he said. “Guess I was wrong about her.”

“We all were,” Willow replied. “She’s actually really nice once you get to know her.”

“But why does she act so cold to everyone, then? I don’t get it.”

Willow paused. “She’s a really private person who prefers to keep things to herself.”

“But that’s not really a good excuse,” Rowan retorted.

Willow was worried, hoping she wouldn’t end up revealing too much. “I guess she just doesn’t want certain things leaking out, ya know?”

“I guess.”

Rowan was still confused, but decided to drop the subject and return his attention to the game. “So, how far are you?”

“Not very,” Willow admitted. “Can’t figure out where to go next.”

“Have you looked everywhere? Clicked everything?” Rowan inquired.

“Yes, everything!” Willow stressed, before realizing something. “Wait, there was this one room with this secret staircase, which I was told was off-limits to everyone outside the village.”

Rowan smiled excitedly. “Do it!”

“But the game said not to!”

“All the more reason to try!”

“Okay.”

Willow moved to the hidden staircase, clicking to go down. She was in an abandoned basement. Intrigued, she decided to investigate the bookcase, when suddenly, large text saying “Hey, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” showed up. Willow was startled as it faded to the Game Over screen.

“So much for that idea,” Willow sighed. “I give up.”

Rowan shook his head. “You sure there’s no other way?”

“Well, after I’ve been stuck at the freaking beginning for hours, I’m not really eager to find out.”

Rowan smiled. “How about you take a break? A good Elk burger might give you some ideas.”

Willow’s face lit up. “Sure thing. Let’s go!”

—-

A few weeks later, Willow met up with Lydia again for peer tutoring, seeming a lot happier and more confident with her math problems.

“And…done!” Willow exclaimed as she put down her pen. “Wow, that didn’t take long at all.”

“You’ve come a long way,” Lydia replied. “Good luck on the exam, all of you.”

“Thanks, Dia.”

Lydia looked down at her laptop. “By the way,” she began. “What do you think of my game so far?”

Willow paused, staring at Lydia nervously. “Um, I quit playing a couple of weeks ago,” she admitted.

Lydia looked puzzled. “Oh? Why?”

“I couldn’t figure out where to even go! I tried searching everywhere, but the game wouldn’t let me continue.”

“Have you tried the forbidden room?”

“Yes, but I just got an instant Game Over.”

Lydia smiled. “Ah. To get around that, you had to go there at night, but only after you talked to the guard’s wife to learn the lullaby that would put him to sleep. And you had to do it during the New Moon where he would be the most drowsy.”

Willow merely stared blankly at Lydia, her mouth agape. “How the hell was I supposed to know all that?”

“By talking to the villagers,” Lydia replied nonchalantly.

“I did!” Willow protested. “They only said the same line over and over.”

“Well, you have to talk to them in a certain order to make them trust you,” Lydia explained. “Then they would say different things.”

Willow sighed. “I don’t understand why you had to make things so complicated.”

“Well, I never intended it to be finished quickly. It was supposed to test your patience as much as your logic and creative thinking.”

“It certainly did a good job of that,” Willow remarked sardonically. She quickly noticed Lydia looking disappointed and softened her tone. “Look, Dia, I really wanted to like your game, but getting stuck for days isn’t fun for me. I know you’re smart and probably like really hard games, but not everyone is like that. I hope you don’t think I’m an idiot for saying this, but, could you maybe tone it down a little? Make things more intuitive?”

Lydia was silent, thinking over Willow’s words.

“You’re not an idiot,” Lydia said quietly. “And I apologize for making you feel that way. I’m actually glad you were honest, because now I know what to work on.”

“Need any help?” Willow asked.

“No, I’m fine,” Lydia responded.

“I just thought, maybe you could use some extra advice,” Willow said. “Not to imply that you’re a bad designer or anything, but it couldn’t help to have a second opinion, right?”

“Thank you, but I think I know what to do with my own game.”

Willow was taken aback at her remark, and sighed. “What, you think I’m not smart enough for you? That I’ll just taint your grand artistic vision?”

Lydia, realizing the implications of her words, replied, “My apologies. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Then what did you mean?” Willow demanded.

Lydia was silent, thinking about what to say next. Eventually, she said, “Why do you want to help me?”

“Because we’re friends,” Willow asked. “Who always look out for each other, right? I don’t understand, why call me a friend if you’re just going to keep everything to yourself?”

Lydia said nothing, but merely listened, sensing there was something else she wanted to say.

“And, maybe I am jealous of you,” Willow continued. “I guess I thought, if I could help someone as pretty and smart as you, maybe I could actually feel special.”

Lydia paused, waiting for her to finish. After a moment of silence, she spoke.

“You are special,” Lydia replied. “I haven’t met anyone who was so eager to be my friend since Ms. Khorrami, and it’s nice to have someone like you who truly cares about me. I’m sorry that I was rude to you, and I’ll gladly let you help with my game. In fact, would you like to learn some programming?”

Willow’s head perked upwards. “I’d love to, but I’m not good at time.”

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Lydia told her. “Once you understand the logical mentality behind programming, it becomes a lot easier. But we can try a few sessions first. Still interested?”

Willow’s eyes widened as she flashed a huge smile. “Yes, I’d love to!”

“Excellent,” Lydia told her. “We’ll start next week then.”

Willow breathed a contented sigh. She didn’t know if she could really do it, but she was overjoyed that Lydia was giving her this opportunity. She outstretched her arms, and Lydia, smiling, embraced her in a hug.

“Thank you so much, Dia. I’ll do what I can to help make your game a success.”

“And I’ll do the best to make you a programming expert.”

They finished hugging, and bid each other farewell as they left for their next class, excited for their eventual first meeting, and each of them glad that they had each other to fall back on from then on out. For Willow, she could only wonder what adventure lay ahead for both of them.

(next)

(table of contents)

Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-B: Princess of Portlandia (Part 1)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

(previous)

3 years ago

Willow Morningstar was nervous. For her peer tutoring session, she was paired up with Lydia Li, who was renowned as the smartest girl in the school with straight A’s in a full International Baccalaureate slate. However, she was worried as she constantly overheard gossip from her classmates about how rude and stuck-up she was. Maybe they’re just jealous, she thought.

She finally arrived at the classroom, seeing a silhouette of a girl inside, and slowly knocked on the door.

“Come in,” a soft, delicate voice called.

Willow opened the door, and saw Lydia quietly sitting on the table with her laptop. She was astonished, as she looked nothing like what she imagined. She expected a bespectacled Asian girl with messy hair, but instead, she had a silky smooth face, prominently accentuated eyelashes, and long, flowing black hair. She was wearing a frilly white shirt with a black miniskirt, giving her an upper-class Victorian era look.

“Hello,” Willow said. “Lydia, right?”

“Yes,” she replied. “You are Willow, I presume? Here for math help?”

“Yes.”

“What in particular are you having issues with?”

“It’s about our surface area assignment.”

Lydia smiled. “Oh, not a problem! Let me take a look.”

Willow anxiously handed over her assignment, which Lydia quickly scanned over. “So, which questions are you having trouble with?”

“All of them.”

“Well, it would have been more helpful if you gave specifics,” Lydia remarked.

Willow frowned. “Okay, fine,” she said, taking a breath. “How do I approach the first question?”

Lydia quickly scanned the shape she presented. “Oh, a rectangular prism,” she announced. “That’s simple. You know how to calculate the area of each face, right?”

“Yes,” Willow answered, becoming increasingly impatient with her airy, condescending voice.

“Okay, then you just need to add them all up.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Willow replied. “But what about the more complicated shapes? The pyramid? The cylinder?”

“Same idea.”

“Could you be more specific?” Willow retorted.

Lydia made a tut-tut sound, while continuing to smile. “You’re very slow, you know.”

Willow sighed. This was going to be a long hour.

—-

The next day, Willow was eating lunch with her friends.

“Thanks for the help, Willow,” Wisteria said.

“No problem!” she replied.

“So, how’d it go with Lydia?” asked her brother Rowan.

“Not bad,” Willow remarked. “Aside from her treating me like an idiot for an hour, that is.”

“Sorry you got stuck with her,” he said. “She reminds me of those spoiled rich girls from the other side of the city.”

“Oh yes,” Willow agreed. She knew them all too well, the girls in hundred-dollar yoga pants who kept giving them mean looks as they passed by.

“We saw her the other day,” Wisteria added. “Tried saying hi, but she just brushed us off and kept walking. Why does she have to be like that? We just wanted to be friendly.”

“I don’t get it either,” Willow concurred. “The way she acts, it’s no wonder she doesn’t have any friends.”

“Probably thinks she’s too good for us anyway,” Rowan remarked bitterly.

Out of the corner of her eye, Willow suddenly spotted Lydia reading Frankenstein. She was worried that she might have overhead their conversation, but she seemed completely unaware of her surroundings. Willow breathed a sigh of relief, and turned back towards Rowan and Wisteria.

“Anyway, I’m going to see Ms. Khorrami tomorrow to try and get someone else to tutor me,” Willow told them.

“Good luck,” Rowan responded.

“Yeah, you totally deserve better,” Wisteria added.

—-

That afternoon, Willow was outside Ms. Khorrami’s office, prepared to make her request a different peer tutor. She saw her looking outside the window, and she walked over to open the door.

“We’ll be just a minute,” she told her.

Willow noticed that Lydia was also in the room, currently staring outside the window with a blank expression on her face. She seemed oblivious to Willow’s arrival.

“Um, actually, may I come in?” Willow asked. “It’s about Lydia.”

Ms. Khorrami sighed. “I know. Dia, is that okay if Willow comes in?”

Lydia looked back at them. “Okay,” she said quietly.

Willow entered the room as the counselor returned to her seat, facing Lydia. “Now,” she began. “Do you know why I encouraged you to take up peer tutoring in the first place?”

“Because it would look good on my resumé?” Lydia answered in her usual calm monotone.

Willow grimaced. Ugh, she is such a try-hard, she thought.

“It’s not just about jobs,” Ms. Khorrami insisted. “You’re the brightest student in our school. Not only is your knowledge valuable, but also, other girls could benefit from having someone like you to talk to. Isn’t encouraging them to pursue Physics a worthy goal as well?”

“I never asked to be a role model,” Lydia retorted.

“Yes, but they still look up to you.”

“They don’t. Have you heard the shit everyone keeps saying about me?”

Ms. Khorrami gasped. “Lydia! You shouldn’t be using such language!”

Lydia looked at her innocently. “Why not? People are always calling me a bitch, or a slut…”

Ms. Khorrami sighed. “I know I can’t stop you if you want to resign. It’s your decision. But, think about what I said, okay?”

“I will let you know tomorrow,” Lydia replied.

Before leaving, Lydia turned to face Willow. “Sorry about the other day.”

She departed the room, while Willow just sat quietly.

“So, what was your issue with Lydia?” Ms. Khorrami asked.

Willow glanced at her nervously. She came in prepared with a large rant about her, but after hearing the previous conversation, she had other things to say.

“Um, could I still see her tomorrow?” she requested. “Just once, so, you know, I could help her decide if she wants to stay.”

Ms. Khorrami’s face beamed. “Thank you so much! I know she may not be the easiest person to get along with, but it’s her first time doing this. I’m glad you understand.”

Willow nodded. “She seems lonely,” she told her.

“Well, she’s always telling me otherwise,” Ms. Khorrami explained. “but, well, you heard what she said just now. Poor girl. Hasn’t had a friend since the sixth grade.”

Willow was curious. “You knew her for that long?” she asked.

“Yes,” Ms. Khorrami began. “I met with her parents to talk about where she should go for secondary school. They were concerned about she always kept to herself and barely ever talked to anyone. So I suggested she come to Portlandia to take her IB program.”

“Why here?”

“I thought that it would be easier for her to make friends in the East End community. Her parents wanted to send her to a private school, and I was worried that she would only become more isolated there.”

Ms. Khorrami sighed. “But she’s still as detached as ever. It was hard enough just getting her to come meet me regularly.”

Willow noticed the sad, tired expression on her face, and felt she should try lifting part of her burden. “I hope everything goes well tomorrow for us.”

“I hope so too. But if you’re still having trouble with math, please let me know and I will place you with someone else.”

“Thank you.”

Willow began to walk out of the room, glancing back briefly to see how exhausted Ms. Khorrami still looked. She felt bad, and wanted to stay longer, but she had homework to do. Slowly, she closed the door behind her.

—-

The next day, Willow was walking to the peer tutoring classroom. She didn’t see Lydia in the lunch room, so she wondered if she was still in the classroom, or if she had quit already. She looked through the window, and indeed saw her sitting alone, reading manga while a tray of dumplings sat in front of her. She looked different from yesterday, as now she was wearing a black steampunk-inspired dress and silver hair sticks in a cross pattern. But she still had the same face, absorbed in her own world. Willow knocked on the door, and soon after, she gestured her inwards.

“Hi, Dia,” Willow replied after she walked in.

Lydia looked up from her book. “You’re back,” she told her, smiling serenely at her arrival. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Well, after hearing everything from Ms. Khorrami,” she explained. “I thought I’d come by to see how you’re doing.”

“Oh,” Lydia replied. “I was just surprised that you still wanted my help after what happened the other day.”

Willow paused. “I guess I thought, maybe you’d appreciate having someone around.”

She smiled sheepishly, but Lydia’s expression remained unchanged. “I don’t need friends,” she stated.

Willow continued to smile, trying her best to contain her irritation. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I’m perfectly happy by myself,” Lydia said. “Anyway, what problem should we work on today?”

Willow was annoyed at her dismissive response, but got out her assignment, hoping things would turn out better than last time. She then noticed a familiar figure on the book cover. It was the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind manga. Her eyes lit up as she remembered watching the movie as a little girl with her dad and brother.

“You’re a Nausicaa fan?” she asked.

Lydia paused. “Yes,” she responded. “It’s my favourite manga series.”

Willow was amazed. “I didn’t know there was a manga,” she said. “But I imagine it must be good, since I really enjoyed the movie.”

“Yes, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the story wasn’t over,” Lydia replied. “And the manga’s so much more complex than the movie.”

Her smile brightened. “Right now, I’m at the part where Nausicaa discovers the truth behind the Sea of Corruption, that it’s really….”

She noticed Willow looking anxious, as if she was saying too much. “Well, it would be more fun if you read it for yourself, wouldn’t it?”

Willow was pleased to see Lydia so excited. “I’d love to, but I don’t know where to find it.”

Lydia paused. “Well, I guess I could lend them to you,” she offered. “Perhaps tomorrow morning?”

Willow was prepared to say yes, as she was looking forward to finally reading the manga. Before the words came out, though, she had another idea. “Actually,” Willow responded. “Would you mind if we go over to your place?”

Lydia stared at her, not expecting such a request. She thought about it for a few seconds while Willow waited nervously, wondering if her question was too awkward.

Eventually, Lydia replied, “Sure.”

Willow’s heartbeat intensified, as mixed feelings of anticipation and worry filled her. “All right. I’ll catch up with you then.”

—-

“You’re going to Lydia’s house?” Rowan exclaimed.

Willow and her brother were walking to the bus stop, discussing their after-school plans.

“Yeah,” Willow replied. “She wanted to lend me a copy of her Nausicaa manga.”

“Couldn’t she just give it to you tomorrow morning? Why do you need to go all the way to her place?”

Willow shrugged. “I’m kinda curious to see what it looks like. Aren’t you?”

Rowan shook his head. “I don’t get it. Why are you so interested in her all of a sudden?”

Willow stared nervously at him. “Well…”

She suddenly noticed Lydia waiting at the stop for the westbound bus, not expecting to see her there.

“I gotta get going!” she finished hastily. “Can’t keep her waiting.”

Rowan sighed. “Well, have fun, I guess. See ya, sis!”

“See ya!” Willow replied.

Rowan stopped at his spot while Willow walked to meet Lydia.

“Hi,” Willow greeted. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for the bus,” Lydia answered nonchalantly.

“Aren’t your parents picking you up?”

“I told them I was fine getting home on my own. Besides, it’s better for the environment.”

Their bus arrived, and they got on board. The crowd on the bus was a mix of young students and old men and women with scruffy clothes. Most paid no attention to the girls, as they were engaged in their own gossip, though Lydia received a few odd looks. As they sat down, Willow had something on her mind.

“What’s up?” Lydia asked.

“Oh,” Willow began. “Um, we said some mean things behind your back the other day,”

“I know,” Lydia replied.

Willow winced. She was listening all along? “Sorry about that. I was just frustrated.”

“It’s okay. I deserved it.”

Willow gasped. “No, you didn’t!”

“It’s fine. I was admittedly quite rude to you and your friends, and I apologize for that.”

Willow sighed, remembering something they said. “Why did you ignore Rowan and Wisteria?”

“I had a lot on my mind.”

“Does it really take that much effort just to say hi?” Willow asked, frowning.

“We didn’t know each other. It would have come off as insincere.”

She doesn’t get it, Willow thought, as they stared at each other awkwardly. After a while, Willow thought of another conversation topic.

“So, what’s your home like?” Willow asked.

“It’s nice,” Lydia told her.

“In what way?”

Lydia smiled. “Well, if I told you now, it would ruin the surprise.”

Willow agreed. She was then distracted by the view outside, enamoured by the beautiful homes and endless sushi restaurants passing by. Lydia merely sat still, smiling in amusement at how impressed Willow was.

—-

“Just a little further.”

Willow took in the sight of the vast ocean as they walked downhill to Lydia’s house. Excited at the prospect of seeing the place, she wanted to run faster, but had to keep up with Lydia’s leisurely pace.

“And here we are.”

Willow gasped. It was a rustic-looking stone Tudor home that extended down the cliff, with wide windows that overlooked the beach below. It was elegant in its simplicity while grand in scope, and as she stood at the archway, she anticipated how vast it would feel inside. She turned around, taking a deep breath at the sight of the deep green lawn and rainbow assortment of flowers surrounding the home. She wondered how much effort the Li family put in to keep it looking so nice.

“May I take a few pictures?” she asked.

“Yes,” Lydia replied. “But keep them to yourself.”

“I know,” Willow answered. She walked around the house to take a few shots, looking on in envy at the home she would never be able to afford, before entering the doorway. The spacious interior was even more spectacular, with sunlight beaming from every direction highlighting the finely finished wooden frames, as if to greet the pair as they walked on the marble floor. However, Willow noticed something was missing.

“Where are your parents?” she asked.

“Business meeting,” Lydia replied. “Won’t be back till late tonight.”

“Wait, they’re just leaving you alone?”

“Yes. We have the place to ourselves today.”

Lydia started walking upstairs, as Willow eagerly followed. They arrived at the open door to her room, and Willow suddenly felt a strange sensation. In contrast to the rest of the home, her room was dark, blocked by pitch-black curtains. She was intrigued by Lydia’s choice of décor. Her ceiling was decorated by stars, with a planetarium hanging downwards, and a moving gear clock was mounted on top of her computer desk. Around her computer were all sorts of odd figures and contraptions, including a crystal skull pen holder and scattered wires.

She looked to the other side of the room, and saw her bed covered by a quilt with intricate mosaic patterns. Beside it was another desk with a sewing machine with various torn clothes lying around. As expected, she also had several pearl-patterned wardrobes. It was an off-putting contrast.

“Seems like a shame to close off that ocean view, isn’t it?” Willow remarked.

“I do love waking up to the ocean breeze every morning,” Lydia answered dreamily. “But sometimes, a girl needs privacy.”

Willow glanced once again at Lydia’s collection, being particularly impressed by a hulking robot carrying a pencil.

“This looks really cool,” Willow said. “May I try it?”

“Of course,” Lydia replied. “His name is Adam, and his design was based on the Golem of Prague.”

“Looks like Frankenstein’s monster to me,” Willow remarked.

“Well, Frankenstein was based on the golem stories.”

She picked up a small Lego disc piece with runic symbols etched into it. “When you insert it into his mouth…”

The Mindstorms Golem’s eyes lit up as it started moving its pencil across the paper. Willow watched in awe as it formed a concentric crescent moon pattern.

“That’s really neat,” Willow said. “Say, have you considered the Young Inventors competition?”

Lydia paused, her voice becoming softer. “Yes. In fact, I entered an earlier version of the Golem into the fair when I was 12 years old.”

Only 12 years old? she thought. Wow. “How did it go?” she asked.

“Judges barely paid any attention to me. One of them asked me if I arrived there by mistake.”

Willow gasped, though Lydia was still smiling, to her surprise. “Wait, what?” she asked, exasperated. “How could he say such a thing?”

“Well, I also spent a lot of time preparing a nice outfit for the occasion, but it ended up looking out of place amongst the boys there.”

She gestured towards a small, tattered, sparkling red dress on her sewing desk with various markings on it. Willow was confused.

“Why did you put so much effort into your looks? It’s an inventor contest, not a dance hall.”

Lydia’s smile evaporated. “That’s what the judge said too,” she remarked.

Willow shivered, as if her words froze the air in front of her. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. A lot of people think fashion is something only stupid, shallow girls are interested in.”

Willow was curious. “Why is it so important to you?”

“It’s my first impression to the world,” she explained, smiling dreamily. “Whatever I feel inside, I can show on the outside. I can experiment with varying styles, feeling like a different person each time. And when I find the perfect combination, it’s just as exhilarating to look at myself in the mirror as seeing a machine finally come alive and work perfectly.”

Willow was impressed. As much as she enjoyed fashion studies class, she never thought about it that way before. Lydia then put her finger to her lip, trying to remember something. She walked up to her bookcase, and pulled out a gem-encrusted box. “Anyway, here are all seven volumes of Nausicaa. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I do.”

“Thank you very much,” Willow replied. “I’ll take good care of them!”

She looked at her watch, and realized it was nearly 5 pm.

“Um, my brother’s girlfriend is coming over to our place for a barbeque,” she informed Lydia. “So I’ll have to go soon. Wanna come over?”

“Unfortunately,” Lydia replied. “My parents don’t want me going out too far at night. I apologize for that.”

Willow grimaced. “That’s too bad.”

Suddenly, she remembered something Lydia said that bothered her.

“Do you really mean it?” she began, looking worried. “That you don’t need friends?”

“Yes,” Lydia said, to Willow’s disappointment. She waved around the room. “Just look around. I have so many things to create, stories to experience, and so much to discover about the world. As long as I have that, I’m happy.”

She paused, gazing back at her. “But it is nice, to be able to share these stories with someone. Thank you for coming today.”

Willow felt a strange sensation wash over her. The way she looked at her, how delicately she spoke those last words, it was reassuring. She smiled as she turned back towards the door, noticing a watercolour portrait of beautiful woman clad in a deep blue dress and black flowers.

“Who is she?” Willow asked.

“Ada Lovelace,” Lydia stated, smiling sweetly. “A visionary, and my hero. She was the first to realize the potential of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Machine to manipulate more than mere numbers, and laid the foundational theory for modern computing.”

“Sounds like an amazing woman,” Willow responded admiringly.

“She is,” Lydia concurred.

She took out her phone, and snapped a picture before she walked outside.

“See ya, Lydia,” Willow said.

“Farewell,” she responded airily.

(next)

(table of contents)

Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-9: Career Advice

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

(previous)

Tori stood nervously in front of Number 324, the door to her townhouse room. She didn’t want to tell her mother the bad news, but there was no avoiding it.

“Okay, Tori,” she muttered to herself. “It’s just the midterms. I can still turn things around.”

She unlocked the door, trying to look calm. Her mother was already there, with a stern look on her face. Tori quickly opened her bag and presented her with the report card, shaking nervously. Her mother sighed.

“B- in math, again,” she read. “I thought you said you were studying.”

“I did, Mother,” Tori cried softly. “But I just don’t get it, no matter how hard I try.”

“I spent every night last week trying to help you study,” her mother informed her. “I thought we were getting somewhere. Why is this so difficult for you?”

Tori looked down, unable to speak.

“Have you been wasting time on those drawings again?” her mother continued. “You know that it’ll get you nowhere in life, right?”

Tori nodded.

“You can’t just stay with your manga and video games forever, Tori. Some day, I’m not going to be here for you, and those things won’t pay for your dinner. Is that what you want? To starve?”

Tori shuddered. “No Mother,” she replied quietly. “I just want to make you happy.”

Her mother looked worried. Neither of them could say anything else, so they parted ways to their rooms.

—-

Tori walked into her room, greeted by the rainy evening sky and her library full of worn out books. At her desk, she pulled out her sketchbook diary and a quill pen. It too was dirty, with many torn and muddied pages. Still, she held it close to her heart, staring at the photo of her family taken when her father was still alive. She began writing, across a sketch image of a blonde long-haired anime girl with a bow and dress.

Hi again,

I guess you heard everything, didn’t you? Sorry about that. I wish I could have given you better news today. She’s always so tired, but she tried so hard to help me, even if she had trouble understanding math herself. Why did I have to disappoint her?

She started crying before continuing.

Just once, I wanted her to be happy. I haven’t seen her smile in years. But I let her down, as always. I don’t know what is wrong with me. Right now, I wish I could be someone else. Anyone else. She deserves better.

Tori paused, looking at the teardrops that have fallen all over the page.

You’ve heard this many times before, haven’t you? Sorry about that.

—-

Yoko Haruna was also looking at a picture taken back when her husband was still alive.

“Tadashi,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with Tori. I thought that changing schools would help her, but she still has trouble with classes, and I have so much trouble keeping up with her. If only you were still here, what would you do?”

—-

The next lunch morning, Oliver caught up with Stacy and Cheryl in their usual classroom.

“So, how did dinner go with your family?” he asked.

“The food was good,” Stacy replied, then suddenly looks regretful. “Oh, drat, I should have saved some of it. I mean, we had chicken feet!”

“Sounds interesting,” Cheryl said. “Maybe all of us should go some time.”

“Yeah, I’d be down for that,” Oliver agreed. “In other news, I actually got an A-! In Social Studies! I couldn’t believe it!”

“Woo-hoo!” Stacy cried as she and Cheryl exchanged hi-fives with Oliver.

“Congratulations,” Cheryl added. “Wish I was that good at essay-writing.”

“Hey, you were the reason we did so well in our Biology reports,” Stacy remarked. “I suppose you aced it, didn’t you?”

“Yep. A+.”

The two of them grinned, giving her hi-fives. “I overheard Ms. Beryl saying she never had someone as enthusiastic about the course as you, aside from when we’re covering human reproduction.”

Cheryl grinned as well. “That’s something to look forward to. Say, Stacy, how did you do?”

Stacy grimaced, not wanting to be reminded of her report card. “Okay, I know it’s going to sound pathetic to you guys, but I got another B in English.”

“Hey, that isn’t bad,” Cheryl consoled. “I got the same thing.”

“So did I,” Oliver concurred. “Why are you so concerned, anyway? You’ve got A’s in everything else.”

Stacy sighed. “It’s just that I’m going against city kids with straight A’s in full IB courses.”

Oliver gazed at her quizzically. “Why do you need to compare yourself to Lydia?”

Stacy’s face reddened. “Who said anything about Lydie,” she stammered. “-uh?”

Oliver shrugged. “Well, I don’t know anyone else that does IB. Not even Mr. Stewart knows that many personally, and he’s been around the city a few times. It’s more likely she’s just exceptionally smart, and she’s clearly loaded enough to afford all those fancy clothes.”

Stacy sighed. “Wish I was exceptional.”

Oliver patted Stacy’s shoulder. “Hey, I couldn’t have made the grade without you, buddy.”

“You’re also really fun to work with,” Cheryl concurred. “In our labs, and just hanging out in the club.”

Stacy cracked a smile. “Thanks, guys. But…”

Just then, Tori arrived at the room, looking sad and dejected. Stacy rushed towards her, suddenly looking more positive.

“Hey, Tori!” Stacy called out.

She didn’t respond.

“What’s wrong?” Stacy asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Tori answered.

“Oh.”

Stacy paused, looking around at everyone awkwardly, then smiled. “You know,” she told her. “There’s this thing I like to do when I feel upset sometimes. I find some nice quiet place, all to myself, and laugh.”

Oliver’s eyes widened in shock.

“Laugh?” Tori asked.

“Yeah, laugh. Want me to show you how it’s done?”

Oliver bit his lip, with Cheryl looking on in confusion. “Uh-oh, here it comes,” he muttered.

“Um, sure?” Tori replied.

“Okay then.”

Stacy looked around to make sure the window and door were shut tight. After her inspection, she began to take a deep breath, pausing to exhale while the others looked on nervously. She took another breath, and screamed, in loud and slow staccato bursts,

“AH! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!”

Oliver hung his head in embarrassment, while Cheryl looked aghast and Tori just looked puzzled. But Stacy didn’t stop yelling, sounding like a seagull gasping for air.

“AH! HA! HA! HA! AH HA HA HA HA!”

Stacy suddenly stopped to face Tori. “Now you try.”

Tori, still reeling from the awkwardness and seeing Oliver and Cheryl scanning to make sure no one else heard, strained to smile.

“Um, ha ha ha?” Tori chanted.

“Louder!”

“Ha, ha…”

Tori couldn’t stop herself from giggling. “Why, what, is wrong with you? You’re so weird!”

“Ha!” Stacy exclaimed to Oliver, sneering. “And you thought it wouldn’t work.”

Cheryl looked at Oliver, still reeling from the sound, while he just shrugged.

Just then, someone knocked on the door. Stacy immediately rushed to open it, and saw Ren and Mr. Stewart looking flabbergasted.

“Is everyone all right in here?” Mr. Stewart asked.

“Yeah, we’re cool,” Stacy replied, chuckling.

“Oh, good,” he said, exasperated.

“We were just wondering what was up with that strange noise,” Ren added.

“It’s just Stacy being Stacy,” Oliver remarked.

“Oh, I see,” Ren said.

“While I’m here,” Mr. Stewart interjected. “You all ready for the Career Fair this Friday?”

“Nintendo and Ocean Group are going to be there!” Ren added.

“And class ends early so everyone can get there!” Mr. Stewart announced.

Everyone’s eyes lit up, except for Tori. “Ocean, as in the anime voice actors?” Oliver asked.

“Yep.”

“Awesome! We’ve gotta go!”

“Indeed!” Stacy and Cheryl said.

Mr. Stewart noticed Tori’s lack of enthusiasm at the announcement. “Hey, aren’t you excited?”

Tori shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m good at.”

“Aw, c’mon!” Stacy said. “You don’t want to see Nintendo?”

“They’ll just think I’m an idiot.”

Mr. Stewart gave a comforting smile. “They won’t. Everyone there knows what it’s like to be a high school student, and they’re all friendly. Just be yourself and they’ll be happy to talk.”

“Yeah, it’ll be just like talking to us!” Stacy chimed in.

Tori gazed at Stacy, with a bewildered expression on her face. “Okay, I guess,” she told Mr. Stewart.

“Great!” Ren exclaimed. “I can’t wait to meet you all there!”

—-

The school bus from Pollock Secondary was en route to the Career Fair, and the students there were anxiously waiting to get off.

“Um, do I look okay?” Tori asked.

She wore a black overcoat over her matching skirt and leggings. Stacy turned to take a look at her and was shocked.

“Wait, we were supposed to dress up?” she gasped, realizing she hadn’t bothered changing her usual outfit for the occasion.

Oliver shrugged. “Would if I could,” he replied. “But mom knows as much about fashion as I do.”

“Hey, you’re not too bad,” Cheryl said, taking note of his smoothly aligned brown hair. “Besides, I’m not much of a fashion expert myself, as you can tell.” she continued, being conscious of her navy blue shirt and black pants.

“Maybe we could get tips from Lydia,” Oliver remarked, which suddenly caused Stacy to sweat.

“So in other words,” Stacy concluded hastily. “You’re good to go, Tori.”

Oliver and Cheryl chuckled while Tori smiled weakly. “Thanks, I guess.”

Finally, the bus pulled into the Mercury Plaza parking lot as everyone rushed off. Wind blew over the surroundings as they saw a huge crowd of students from Cedar Valley Secondary gathered in formal attire, swarmed around the various company booths. Oliver noticed the Smith family’s fancy limo and shook his head.

“Okay, team,” Stacy announced. “Where should we go first?”

“Nintendo, of course!” Oliver exclaimed.

Trying to keep up with the rest of the crowd, they ran to the booths. Unfortunately, when they got there, they saw a huge line-up for the Nintendo booth.

“Aww,” Oliver moaned. “Looks like it’s gonna be a while.”

“Well, how about we check out the other booths first?” Cheryl said.

“Sounds good to me!” Stacy replied.

As they prepared to walk away, they saw Lucas and Ren come out from the booth. While Ren was dressed in his usual blue shirt and jeans, Lucas was suited up in a black tuxedo with shades. Stacy resisted the urge to laugh at his attempt to look cool.

“Too bad, suckers!” Lucas sneered. “That’s what you get for not coming here early.”

“Well, not all of us need to show off,” Oliver protested, though Stacy gestured at him to calm down.

“Oh, hi, Lucas,” Stacy said nonchalantly. “How did your meeting with Nintendo go?”

“It was awesome,” Lucas replied. “They were so impressed by my straight A’s and gaming prowess that they gave me their business card. They even said there might be a slot for me in the future!”

“Uh, Lucas,” Ren interjected. “That’s what they told everyone.”

“So? They were clearly happier with me.”

He turned back towards the Games for Everyone crew. “Don’t waste your time. You’re not only up against me, but Cedar Valley’s geeks as well. None of you has a chance, especially not a pretender like you!”

He pointed towards Stacy, smirking, while she simply rolled her eyes. They suddenly heard another boy’s voice behind him. “Ah, Lucas,” he said. “Still wasting your time with those video games, I see.”

Lucas recognized that smug British accent. Great, he thought. That Prince kid again.

“So what if I do?” Lucas protested. “I’m still Pollock’s top student, you know.”

“Only Pollock,” Tory sneered. “Your average is, what, 90%?”

“91!”

“Oh, I’m so impressed. I mean, I only have a 95% average, and already, I’ve been accepted into law school,” Tory answered. “While you’re still playing with your toys, I’ll be off shaping the country’s future. Anyway, I’d love to stay and chat more, but I’ve got other booths to visit, so ta!”

As Tory left, Lucas grinded his teeth while the others simply stared at him.

“I’ll show that spoiled brat,” he murmured, clenching his fist. “Someday, I’ll make millions off video games, and he’ll be sorry he missed the boat!”

He laughed manaically, fantasizing over humiliating his rival, while everyone just stared.

“Say, Lucas,” Ren told him. “How about we check on Abby?”

Lucas took a deep breath. “Fine.”

As they left, the foursome collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

“Anyway,” Oliver said. “I’m off to see Ocean Group. Catch ya later!”

“I’ll be at the aquarium booth!” Cheryl responded.

“I’m probably just going to wander around a bit,” Stacy said. “How about we meet back here later?”

“Sure!” Oliver and Cheryl replied. “See ya!”

“See you later, everyone!” Stacy called back.

As the other three parted ways, Tori just stared into the distance. What was she going to do?

—-

Nick and Ian, dressed up in Zapdos and Moltres costumes respectively, just finished talking to the voice actress at the booth, a middle-aged, short-haired woman named Alice Bernstein, and stepped aside to let the next person in line talk while they met up with Oliver.

“Hi guys,” Oliver greeted. “How’d it go?”

“We made her laugh, I think,” Nick replied.

“Well, more of a mild chuckle,” Ian added.

“Next time we meet, it’ll be a guffaw!” Nick boasted. “We’ll make sure of it!”

They high-fived as Alice called Oliver over.

“By the way, great costumes, guys!” Oliver told them.

“Thanks!” they both said in unison. Oliver then nervously turned to face Alice.

“Hi, Ms. Bernstein,” Oliver told her, his voice shaking.

“Call me Alice,” she said, smiling. Oliver was surprised at how deep her voice was. “What’s your name?

“Oliver,” he said, before pulling out a black anime cat plushie. “Could you please sign his tail?”

“Sure thing,” she replied, pulling out a white marker and signing her name. “So, you’re interested in voice work, are you?”

“Of course!” Oliver responded.

“Hmm, what shows are you particularly interested in? And what role would you like to play?”

“Well, I’d love to be some cool shonen protagonist like Goku.”

Alice smiled. “Well, how about we hear a demonstration from you?”

Oliver paused. “Um, you’re not going to make me laugh, are you?” he asked.

“Not if you don’t want to. But being a voice actor is all about throwing your inhibition to the wind, not being afraid to look like an idiot. After all, your characters will, a lot.”

Oliver paused. She had a point there.

“How about this?” Alice told him. “Try imitating a famous scene from a show you like.”

“Like Death Note?” Oliver asked.

Alice smiled. “Ah, good choice.”

Oliver took a deep breath, seeing the crowd gathered there. “Okay, here goes!”

He took the microphone, paused for a bit, and suddenly yelled, “I’ll take a potato chip…AND EAT IT!”

Oliver gasped, scanning the area. He saw a few girls giggling as he was sweating, but after a while, everyone applauded him. He sighed in relief.

“Not bad!” Alice complimented.

Oliver smiled. “Does that mean I’m worthy?”

“Well,” Alice said. “It’s not that simple. The industry is quite competitive, and you’re constantly going to have to prove yourself, especially if you want a major role. But if you’re up for it, it can be quite rewarding.”

Oliver grinned. “It would be awesome to do, though.”

“It is,” Alice concurred. “You meet some amazing and understanding people in the field. Anyway, I believe there are others waiting for their turn, but I’ll be at CherryCon in the next few months!”

“All right! See ya then, Alice!”

As he walked off the stage, a girl walked up to him.

“You were really brave up there,” she told him.

Oliver put his hand behind his back. “Aw, shucks,” he said. “At that point, I just didn’t pay attention to anyone. Good luck up there.”

“Thanks. You too.”

—-

Cheryl caught up with Sofia at the University of British Columbia booth.

“Hi, Cher,” she called out.

“Hi, Sofie,” Cheryl called back. “Whatcha up to?”

“Oh, I’ve just been checking out different booths. Anything particularly interest you?”

“Well, that’s why I’m here. They’ve got a cool marine biology program I wanted to check out.”

Sofia sighed. “I wish I had my life figured out like you.”

Cheryl smiled nervously. “It’s not so simple. I know I want to do something in biology, but I don’t know what specifically.”

“At least you have some idea, and so does Tori. I’ve got nothing.”

“Leading our team isn’t nothing, Sofie. Lots of employers love that take charge attitude. Besides, if you don’t know, that’s why we’re here, right?”

Sofia beamed. “Yeah, you’re right Cher. I hope this fair helps.”

“I hope so too.”

They high-fived as they walked towards the marine biology booth. Standing there was a young woman wearing a shorts and a red shirt named Trina.

“Hi there,” she greeted. “Are you looking for a job full of adventure?”

“That’s why we’re here!” Cheryl replied cheerfully.

“Good. Well, many of us are fascinated by outer space, but imagine, we already have alien life on Earth, in our oceans!”

“Yep,” Cheryl concurred. “Those bioluminescent creatures are pretty out there.”

Trina smiled, pleased to see a fellow enthusiast.

“What made you interested in marine biology?” Sofia asked.

“Good question,” Trina replied. “Have you ever played a game called Endless Ocean?”

Cheryl and Sofia gasped. “You’re the first other person I know who played that game!” Cheryl exclaimed.

“Yeah, it’s an underappreciated gem. Well, I’ve always been fascinated by the sea, and that game was like a dream come true for me. After playing, I wanted to visit the sea for real, and now, I get to swim with sharks for my graduate program!”

“Aren’t they dangerous?” Sofia asked.

Trina laughed. “They’re not dangerous! That’s just a Hollywood myth. Most sharks don’t care for the taste of human. But like any animal, you need to respect them.”

Cheryl and Sofia gazed in awe at a photo of Trina surrounded by sharks.

“Thanks a bundle,” Cheryl said. “When I get to university, I hope I’ll get to do something as cool as you!”

“No problem! Hope to see you again!”

—-

Stacy had collected multiple business cards already, eager to sample everything out there. Scanning the plaza for her next job visit, she gasped as she saw a familiar face.

“Mr. Stewart?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”

Mr. Stewart was standing in front of a booth for Cedar Grove Teachers. Alongside him was someone Stacy recognized from her childhood, a stern-faced elderly woman named Mrs. Myska who was a teacher at Hopper Elementary.

“Hi there, Stacy,” Mr. Stewart called to her cheerfully. “I suppose you’re interested in teaching?”

“Um, not really?” Stacy replied. Of all things, teaching was the last job she had in mind.

Mr. Stewart looked at Mrs. Myska, smiling. “Looks like we’ll be the ones tested today,” he remarked. “Time to make a case for our job.”

“Do you like working with kids?” Mrs. Myska asked.

Stacy pondered her question. “Well, I never actually tried.”

“Well, I’d think that gaming club of yours would give you some experience, right?” Mr. Stewart inquired.

“Yeah, but we don’t really do anything.”

“Hey, don’t sell yourself short. You and your friends are having fun, aren’t they?”

“I guess so.”

Mr. Stewart smiled. “I’ve met a lot of student club leaders like you. They all have one thing in common. More ideas than time.”

Stacy frowned. That sounded about right. “Even Lucas?”

“Lucas, well, he’s smart, no doubt, but he has, um, a habit of deferring responsibility. From the sounds of things, it’s my boy actually keeping the place running.”

Mr. Stewart laughed. “Sometimes, all people need is a common interest and a place to hang out. I mean, I just come to Teachers’ Union meetings for the food!”

Mrs. Myska shook her head, but Stacy chuckled softly. “Hmm…there’s an idea.”

She turned to Mrs. Myska. “So, what is it like at Hopper Elementary these days?”

“Same as always,” Mrs. Myska remarked. “Kids are still rowdy.”

“Of course,” Stacy remarked, smiling. She fondly remembered how much she yelled at them to be quiet.

“By the way,” Mrs. Myska added. “Ms. Markov has been telling me about your piano talent.”

Stacy shivered. “Well, I’m not actually that good.”

Mrs. Myska smiled. “First Class Honors in Grade 9 is pretty good if you ask me.”

“I guess.”

“Anyway, we’re currently looking for musicians like you to teach the kids about music after school. Would that be a position you’re interested in?”

Stacy stopped, holding her heart. She was actually offering her a position already?

“Um, sure, I’ll try it. I get off class early on Friday, so maybe then?”

“Sounds good. Will you be able to try next week?”

“Sure.”

“Very well. See you then.”

Stacy beamed. “Thanks a bundle for inviting me. I’ll do my best!”

Mr. Stewart smiled. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to do it full-time!”

Stacy looked skeptical. “We’ll see.”

—-

Tori was waiting patiently in line at the Nintendo stall when her friends got back, drawing something in her sketchbook to pass the time. The crowd had mostly dissipated, much to her relief. In the distance, her friends were chatting about their day.

“Wait, you got a job already?” Oliver asked Stacy.

“It’s just a volunteer position,” Stacy reminded him. “Honestly, I’m as surprised as you, but I guess I was lucky to know people.”

“Well, it sounds like you’ll have a fun time,” Cheryl said. “Tell us how it goes, okay?”

“Sure thing, if I don’t totally screw up,” Stacy said.

“C’mon, Stacy,” Oliver told her. “Kids are pretty easy-going.”

“I guess,” Stacy replied. “Anyway, how did everything go for both of you?”

“It was alright,” Oliver said.

“Yeah, it was fun,” Cheryl added. “Good to know what’s out there.”

They saw Tori still standing at the Nintendo booth. She noticed them coming and waved cheerfully.

“Hey, Tori,” Stacy called to her. “Whatcha been up to?”

“Um, not much,” Tori replied. “I, um, thought I’d just hold the position for you guys.”

No one looked convinced by that statement. “Really?” Stacy remarked. “You just stood in line here all day?”

“I don’t think the line was that long,” Oliver added.

Tori gazed nervously at her friends. “Okay, I lied,” she admitted. “I just, I didn’t dare meet anyone! I thought, they would just look at me, think I was an idiot, and tell everyone never to hire me ever!”

The other three gazed in concern at Tori’s shivering. “Tori,” Cheryl began. “They’re not like that. Everyone we talked to was very friendly.”

“Yeah, it was very casual,” Oliver added. “Nothing to worry about.”

Tori sighed. She was prepared to say something else, but before she could, a man’s voice called out, “Sorry, you’ve been waiting quite a while, haven’t you?”

The four of them gasped. “Tori, he’s talking to you!” Oliver told her.

Tori took a deep breath, and turned around to meet the pair at the booth.

“Um, hi,” Tori greeted the man.

He extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Gerald.”

“And I’m Ethel,” said the woman beside him. “It seems you were drawing for a while. May I take a look?”

Tori, trying to stay calm, handed over her sketchbook. Gerald and Ethel flipped through the pages and smiled. The page was turned to a crowd of Mario characters all gathered in Mercury Plaza, including Yoshis, Toads, Koopas, and much more.

“You’re a very creative artist,” Gerald replied. “Thank you so much for sharing.”

“Y-you’re welcome,” Tori stammered nervously.

“So, any plans to work for Nintendo someday?” Ethel asked.

“Um, I’m not good at programming!” Tori answered.

“No problem,” Ethel replied. “We’re also on the lookout for artistic talent such as yours.”

“In fact,” Gerald added. “We get a lot of requests for programming jobs, but not as many artists. So I’m glad you came to us today.”

Tori gasped. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“T-Thank you!” she said. “But what would I have to do to get a job here?”

“Well, you’re already off to a good start,” Ethel replied, as she further scanned her sketchbook. “but to be honest, I don’t see that much unique about your portfolio. You need to develop your own style.”

“My own style?”

“Yeah, something that everyone will recognize comes from you!”

Tori smiled. “I’ll do my best.”

“And we’ll be looking forward to it,” Gerald said. “If you’re still interested after a few more years, we’d love to have you around.”

Tori bowed. “Thank you so much! I’ll work as hard as I can!”

Tori cheerfully walked back up to her friends. “C’mon, it’s your turn now!” she told them, gesturing towards the booth

The other three were stunned. They couldn’t remember the last time they saw Tori this optimistic.

—-

Dear diary,

Today was such a good day. We were at the Career Fair, and it seemed that everyone had fun. Stacy met her old teacher from Hopper Elementary and will be volunteering at next week as a music teacher next week. Oliver got a taste of voice acting and is really looking forward to drama class next term. Cheryl got to meet a marine biologist and is looking forward to eventually getting a field research position after University. I’m so happy that things turned out so well for my friends.

As for me, I got to visit some people from Nintendo! I was really nervous at first, since the Cedar Valley students were there too, and I’m still grateful I didn’t run into you-know-who. But the people at Nintendo were really nice, and they even liked my drawings! Who knows, being a video game artist might be fun!

Say, I just realized. All this time, I shared my drawings with you, but I never showed you what I looked like.

In the space after that entry was a drawing of a girl waving to the viewer. She had big round glasses and short, bowl-cut hair, with a black minidress and leggings completely covering her pear-shaped body. Though tiny, she looked happy and serene in this very moment.

This is me. What do you think?

(next)

(table of contents)

Holding out for a hero

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The world is in crisis. Global temperatures are rising, and the deterioration of the global ecosystem has begun. Already, people have become displaced from their homes due to flooding. We know we need to act, and yet the world is paralyzed by indecision.

It’s tempting to blame all of humanity for our current problems. But that is unfair. Many of those most impacted, such as those low-income environmental migrants in Asia and Oceania who had their homes ruined by floods and tropical storms, contributed the least to the crisis. Instead, let us highlight real villains: the moneyed interests who have abused the world’s resources for their own individual gain. They are the ones who spread misinformation about the crisis, preventing action knowing it would threaten the fossil fuels that sustain their enormous paycheques even as they choke our atmosphere like tobacco. They continue to manipulate people into ravenously consuming products even as the climate demands we use less. And They care not that they have effectively stolen the futures of generations to come, for they have already stolen the present. There’s a reason why the 1% has become a meme: they indeed own more wealth than the rest of the world combined.

In major cities like Vancouver, where even the most modest houses are now multi-million dollar items, the act of owning a home, once considered an ordinary, even mandatory (and albeit unsustainable) part of adult life, has now become something inaccessible. Even those most in need of shelter are forced to bear the cold, rainy night alone while many rich homeowners don’t even step foot in them. And the governments, as of now, have done barely anything to help, instead punishing those trying to make their own shelters. We see such injustice mirrored in many other situations; the police systemically murdering black people, nearly everything we buy being made from the metaphorical blood of overseas workers from poorer nations, and so much more that it’s overwhelming.

You know what the world needs right now? Heroes.

Remember the stories we experienced, then and now? The common plot line of a world overrun by oppressive forces, and those that would challenge the world as it is to fight for the world as it should be against overwhelming odds? Many of us dreamed of the day that we would be in that position. Well, our world as it is right now has a lot in common with the fictional dystopias, and it’s up to us to change it!

Of course, it looks easier in the stories. Often, the heroes will face resistance not only from the villains, but also the authorities and apathetic societies. We admire the heroes for doing what’s right rather than what’s easy, but would you do the same in a similar situation? If everyone around you calls you selfish and entitled for defending the rights of other people, animals, the environment, would you just accept it? Would you filter out the cries for help from those suffering from poverty and discrimination because it’s unpopular to go against the oppressors? It’s been said many times that there are far more of you then there are of them, so why passively accept things when we have the power to fight back, and when the other choice is the destruction of our world and the robbery of our future?

To be honest, I’d rather be out there making change rather than writing things like this. I often wonder if I too am merely a bystander, too concerned about my own life to consider others. But I write this in hopes that it may make a difference, because a ruined future looms on the horizon, and right now, we are all presented with a choice. Die, and be free of pain, or live, and fight your sorrow!

Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-8: Nazarenko Family Values

Tags

, , , , , ,

(previous)

“Aww, c’mon! I wanted to be Peach!”

Uncle Zhao nonchalantly pressed A. Nick and Ian had already chosen Mario and Luigi respectively, leaving Stacy with only one other option for this level of Super Mario 3D World.

“Looks like you’re stuck with Toad!” Nick said.

Stacy frowned. Of all characters, she thought. Well, she’ll just have to make do.

“Nice of you to finally join us, Dad!” Ian said as they began the game.

“This is his first time playing?” Stacy asked.

“Yeah,” Nick said. “He hasn’t touched a single Mario game since Super Mario 64.”

Stacy was shocked. “Wait, really? But why?”

“Oh, don’t get him started,” Nick warned.

“Oh, kay then,” Stacy said.

She saw him running for the Star Coin, so she knocked Peach out of the way to claim the prize for herself.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” Uncle snapped.

The other three giggled. “Good one!” Ian remarked.

Uncle Zhao frowned. “How are we supposed to beat this game playing like this?” he asked, which only made them laugh even more.

Aunt Zhao was in the kitchen, watching the four of them having fun. Stacy shot a side glance at her. “Say, how come you aren’t playing?” she asked.

Aunt Zhao smiled. “I just enjoying watching you kids mess with Min.”

Ian started jumping off towards the flagpole when Stacy outpaced him, grabbing the top while he fumbled towards the middle.

“You threw off my groove!” he yelled as Stacy smirked.

As Uncle and Nick caught up, the latter high-fived his brother and cousin while Uncle just stared, frowning as usual. After the game tallied the end-of-level scores, Stacy came out on top.

“Hey, I won!” she cried.

During the intermission, Aunt Zhao walked over to them. “Say, Anastasia, I have something for you.”

“Mom!” Nick interjected. “Stacy doesn’t like being called that.”

“I know,” she said sternly. “But she should be proud of it. Julie said she searched day and night for that perfect name.”

Julie. Ugh, Stacy thought. She really didn’t want to be reminded of her mother right now. She looked at her uncle, and noticed he too turned away to hide his face in response to his sister being mentioned.

“What you got, auntie?” she asked.

Aunt Zhao handed her a card. Stacy glanced, and beamed at what she saw.

“We’re having a family get-together this Sunday at the Happy Valley,” Aunt explained. “Can you come?”

“Of course, Auntie!” Stacy exclaimed. “I haven’t had Chinese food in ages!”

“It’ll be the real deal,” Uncle added. “Not that greasy crap white people eat.”

Stacy smiled uncomfortably. “Yeah, it’ll be quite an experience.”

Nick hung his arm around Stacy’s shoulders. “So, how does it feel to be one of us?”

“One of…us?” Stacy replied.

“Yeah. Starting Sunday, you’re going to dine with us as an honourary Zhao!”

Stacy Zhao, she thought. She liked the sound of that.

—-

That evening, Stacy was at home cooking chicken stir-fry. She would rather have stayed with her relatives for dinner, but she knew her dad would be furious if he had nothing to eat. She hated cooking for that picky eater, but she did get some pointers from her aunt this time. As she was grilling the chicken, Mr. Nazarenko walked into the door, grumpy and tired as usual.

“Hey, Stacy,” he demanded. “You’re late.”

“It’ll be just a few minutes!” she replied cheerfully.

Her dad was taken aback. What is she so happy about?

As promised, Stacy arrived in the dining room with two dishes and a huge grin on her face. Her dad noticed a bright red card sticking out of her pocket and pointed at it.

“What you got there?” he asked.

Stacy put down the food and pulled out the card. “Oh this?” she replied. “It’s none of your business.”

“As your father,” he said sternly, “It is my business. Now give it to me.”

Stacy sighed and dropped the card. Her dad promptly picked it up.

“Happy Valley Restaurant?” he read. “Who invited you to Chinese food?”

“Oh, just some relatives.”

Mr. Nazarenko was annoyed. “Why were you trying to hide this from me?”

“Um, because they never mentioned you?” Stacy retorted. “Besides, you never invited me to any of your mountain hikes.”

“How was I supposed to know you were interested? Most girls don’t care for such things!”

Yeah, thanks for reminding me, she thought. “Because I asked? Like, a hundred times?”

“I didn’t think you were serious!”

Stacy shook her head. She wasn’t surprised. “Anyway, since you seem so interested, why don’t you just ask Uncle for an invitation?”

“Bah. You think I care about some lame party Chow Main is throwing?”

Stacy was stunned. “Wow…no wonder they never wanted to invite you. By the way, his name is Minchao.”

“Whatever!” her dad snapped. “And fix that attitude of yours, little miss. You have no right to be talking back to your father like that.”

“My…?”

Stacy stopped. She knew continuing on would be pointless, so she simply walked away to her room.

—-

“You’re not from these parts, are you? What brought you all the way here?”

Stacy was playing through Memories of the Sleeping Village to distract herself from that unpleasant conversation. She had finally raised Mona’s relationship values high enough to start a conversation with her. In response to her question, she answered, “I don’t know.”

“That’s odd. Well, where did you come from?”

Stacy answered “City.”

“Oh wow, a large city? Full of vast and tall buildings? That sounds so much more exciting than the village. I’d love to escape to a place like that someday. How is life there?”

Stacy was then presented with two options: “Wonderful” and “Horrible.” She paused nervously, knowing that whichever option she chose, she would not be able to take it back unless she reset the game. She wanted to pick “Wonderful,” and felt it was the correct option, but she couldn’t tell a lie right now.

“Oh. I’m sorry. Is that why you came here? To escape?”

Escape, Stacy thought. Yeah, I’d like to get out of here too. She picked “Yes.”

“I see. Well, we don’t have much, but I hope we can do whatever we can to help you settle in. Father may be a bit odd, but he wants to make life here as exciting as possible for you. How’s he doing at that?”

Suddenly, her cell phone started ringing. Stacy noticed it was from her aunt.

“Hi Stacy,” Aunt Zhao called. “How was dinner?”

“Oh, it was good!” Stacy replied in a cheerful tone. “Thanks for the recipe!”

Aunt Zhao paused. “Okay, what really happened?” she asked, unconvinced.

Stacy was shocked. She really couldn’t hide it, could she? “I didn’t eat,” she said. “Got into a fight with Dad.”

“You need to eat,” Aunt Zhao said, concerned. “You’re a growing girl, after all.”

“It’s okay. I’ll just have it when he goes to sleep. Besides, I’ll have plenty to eat on Sunday, right?”

The two became silent for a moment. There was something Stacy wanted to say, but she had trouble figuring out how to put it in words.

“By the way…” she began. “What would you say if I asked if Dad could come along?”

Aunt Zhao paused. “Why? Do you want to make things up with him?”

“Not really,” Stacy said. “But it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it? To include everyone?”

Stacy felt an awkward taste in her mouth after saying that. She knew from experience that saying that phrase only lead to trouble, but she felt bad about leaving anyone out. Even her dad.

“Well, he and Min don’t exactly get along,” her aunt replied. “But I guess we could do it just this once. It’s been a while since our families met, after all.”

Stacy smiled. “Thanks, Auntie. See you there!”

“Bye!”

—-

Mr. Nazarenko was oddly quiet while driving to the restaurant, though Stacy didn’t mind. Sitting in the back seat, she preferred the silence. Her dad had on a black and white suit ensemble and his brown hair was finely combed backwards. She had to admit, that actually made him look good. Almost. For her part, Stacy wore an opaque jade-coloured dress. She felt awkward wearing it, but she wanted to make a good impression.

They pulled into the parking lot of a building with bright red banners and Happy Valley Restaurant emblazoned in golden letters. Stacy texted her aunt that they had arrived, both excited and nervous to meet her family.

“Well, where are they?” her dad asked.

“They’re coming,” Stacy replied, checking her phone. “In fact, they’re already inside.”

“What, they couldn’t wait for us?” her dad moaned.

Stacy was trying to be as calm and unsarcastic as possible. “It’s a reservation.”

They walked into the restaurant and were greeted to a huge spectacle. The walls were adorned in red and gold, proudly displaying Dragon and Fenghuang statues along with Chinese artwork. All the tables were neatly arranged within the circular hall.

Good thing Uncle and Aunt are paying for us, Stacy thought. We’d never come here otherwise.

She scanned the room for her family. At first, she didn’t notice them, since it was such a loud room. Suddenly, she heard Ian waving to him.

“Oh, hi, everyone!” she said, as they both walked over to the group.

“Hi, Stacy,” Ian replied. “We were wondering when you’d show up!”

“Aw, how long have you been waiting?”

“Two minutes,” Nick replied, gesturing to ignore Ian.

Another woman at the table turned towards her. “Hello, Stacy.”

Stacy smiled nervously. “Oh, hi, Ms. Markov. What brings you here?”

“Lianzi invited me. Anyways, you’ve been practicing well?”

“Yeah, fine, I guess.”

Meanwhile, her dad was staring at her Uncle.

“Hello, Alex,” her uncle said quietly.

“Hello,” her dad replied, pausing nervously. “Er…”

“Call me Min. Please, have a seat.”

The table suddenly fell quiet as Mr. Nazarenko sat down, separated by one seat each in between Stacy and Nick, and across from Min. Their menus were already laid out, and everyone stared at them for a few seconds, not making eye contact.

“So, what’s good here?” Stacy asked.

“Oh, you’ll find out,” Nick said. “Leave it to ma ma and ba ba. They always know what’s best.”

Stacy grinned, sipping some tea while seeing how confused her dad was. “Sure thing!”

An attractive male waiter came over to the table, conversing in Mandarin to Mr. and Mrs. Zhao. As he prepared to pick up the menus, Stacy’s dad held his firmly.

“Hey, wait, I haven’t ordered anything yet!” he protested.

“We ordered plenty,” Mrs. Zhao told him.

“Well, I’d like my own order.”

“What would you like, sir?” the waiter asked.

Mr. Nazarenko was taken aback. Scanning his menu, he settled on Peking Duck.

“We already ordered that,” Mr. Zhao pointed out.

“Well, I didn’t get one yet,” Mr. Nazarenko retorted.

“We got enough for everybody,” Mr. Zhao said. “Don’t order too much, or else you’ll be too full to finish everything.”

“Just who do you think I am?” Mr. Nazarenko snapped.

Mr. Zhao said nothing as Mr. Nazarenko turned over to the waiter. “Full order, please.”

The waiter, flustered by his attitude, merely bowed and said thank you as he picked up the remaining menus and walked away. Ian made a balloon belly gesture to Nick and Stacy, and they chuckled, in contrast to the sombre adults.

—-

The waiter returned with the first dish, a salad full of slimy-looking yellow noodles. Stacy was slightly grossed out by the sight of them, but smiled anyway.

“Xièxie,” she told the waiter, before turning to Nick. “What is that?”

“Jellyfish, cousin!” he chuckled. “Brave enough to try?”

Stacy’s face scrunched up. “Of course I am!”

She picked up her chopsticks. Her aunt did teach her how to use them, but her grip still felt awkward. Quickly, she grabbed some salad to take to her plate, but as she withdrew her chopsticks, some of the jellyfish flew off, right onto her dress! She desperately tried to wipe it off, hoping no one noticed, but it was too late. The entire table was staring at her, and her dad shook his head disapprovingly. She looked away from him as she stuffed the remaining jellyfish in her mouth.

“Um…” she mumbled as she swallowed her food. “It’s really good!”

She wasn’t lying. The tentacles felt as slimy as they looked, and was hard to chew, but she enjoyed the flavour slipping and sliding through her mouth. Nick and Ian smiled, the latter patting her back for accepting Nick’s dare. Her aunt, also pleased, turned to Ms. Markov.

“Well, Nataliya,” she said. “Your turn!”

As Ms. Markov reached for her serving of jellyfish, Mr. Nazarenko interrupted.

“Sorry about my daughter,” he told everyone. “Tried to teach her manners, but she just never listens.”

Stacy felt a sinking sensation in her heart. She spent so long preparing for tonight: practicing her table manners, straightening out her hair, and yet, she still somehow managed to mess up. She turned away, holding back the urge to cry. She looked back, and saw that everyone was staring disapprovingly, but not at her.

“You haven’t changed a bit, have you Alex?” her aunt replied quietly.

Stacy’s dad gasped in frustration. “What do you mean?” he demanded.

“You shouldn’t talk to Stacy like that,” she said.

“What? I’m just telling it like it is. You Chinese folk should know all about discipline!”

Everyone gasped. Mrs. Zhao turned to her sons, looking guilty, while they looked back at their uncle defiantly.

“Ma ma and ba ba never talk to us like that!” Nick protested.

Mr. Nazarenko was dumbfounded. “Oh what, your kids talk back too? I thought you were better than this.”

Mr. Zhao, who had been quiet throughout the entire evening, finally spoke up. “Still don’t know why Julie left you?”

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Nazarenko retorted. “That’s none of your business.”

“My sister, is none of my business?” Mr. Zhao replied coldly. “Maybe if you thought about someone other than yourself for once…”

Everyone else but Stacy glared at Mr. Nazarenko in agreement. Just then, the waiter came by with the remaining dishes. He saw the tension unfolding, and quickly slipped away. Mr. Nazarenko quickly grabbed his Peking Duck dish.

“Fine! I know when I’m not wanted.”

Seeing that the Smith family was also at another table, Mr. Nazarenko walked off towards them. Mrs. Zhao looked embarrassed as the entire table fell into an awkward silence.

“Sorry to drag you into this, Nataliya,” she told Ms. Markov.

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “I understand.”

Mrs. Zhao then turned to Stacy, who was still looking down.

“What…happened to Mother?” she asked. “Why did she leave?”

The Zhaos and Mrs. Markov stared at each other nervously.

“She never told us,” her uncle said.

“We were as surprised as you were,” her aunt added.

Go figure, Stacy thought. However, Mr. Zhao looked unconvinced. “I wasn’t. Alex changed her.”

“What do you mean?” Stacy asked.

Mr. Zhao sipped some tea before he continued, smiling for the first time in ages. “She was a wonderful sister to have around. She was kind, always saw the bright side of everything, and could make anyone smile. Kind of like…you.”

Stacy was surprised to hear that coming from her uncle, and she felt an awkwardly warm sensation in her heart. “But…” she protested.

“And she also had big dreams,” he continued. Stacy held her thought and listened curiously.

“She was one of the very best students I ever had,” Ms. Markov added. “Always coming to lessons asking what she could improve on, and her performances were absolutely wonderful.”

Mrs. Zhao agreed. “Yes, the way she played her melodies, it was like being in a dream. And she was always eager to join in our sports. I’m still amazed at how fast she could swim.”

The conversation shifted back to Mr. Zhao. “She also spent a lot of time volunteering with our town’s parks. I often thought maybe she was doing too much. She picked up waste even on days where it was raining heavily. But, she said she just wanted to make Cedar Grove more beautiful.”

Stacy was still quiet, with a blank expression on her face. She wanted to know more, but if she really was as wonderful as everyone said, why was this all new to her? How did everyone know more about her own mother than she did?

“But after she married Alex,” Mr. Zhao continued. “Everything changed. She came out of the house less often.”

“You more than anyone know how he is,” Mrs. Zhao told Stacy. “She was still always smiling whenever she would meet for family dinners, but over the years, we saw her less often. She also said fewer things, especially since Alex got upset whenever we talked to her for too long. We never knew what was going on between them, but Alex always seemed grumpy.”

“When you told me your dad stopped you from playing,” Ms. Markov confessed, sadly. “Well, Julie said almost the same thing. Her playing became worse over time, and in the end, she just quit. Said she was too busy.”

Mrs. Zhao emphasized that excuse. “Yes, busy. Yet, she would never miss our social gatherings before.”

“And then one day, she just…left,” Mr. Zhao concluded. “Without telling anyone.”

A mixture of sadness and frustration welled inside Stacy. “Well, if Dad was such bad news, why did she marry him then?” she argued.

Mr. Zhao frowned, looking hurt. “He did not seem so bad at first, and Julie really did love him. But she was worried that if she didn’t marry him, no one would ever love her again.”

“But I thought everyone loved her,” Stacy told him.

“I thought so too. But she said people talked behind her back. Said people only liked her because she was young and pretty, that she just did everything for attention. They called her…a fake.”

Fake. Stacy knew that word all too well, and started sobbing at the sound of that word.

“I should have known,” she cried. “what she went through. And yet, I hated her. I was so selfish, not even thinking about how Dad must have treated her. But, I still don’t understand. Why, why would she just leave? Without a single word?

Her voice became sharper, gazing at her relatives. “And why? Why did you never tell me anything?”

Mrs. Zhao was taken aback at her niece’s accusation. “We didn’t know how to.”

Mr. Zhao interjected. “However much you hated your mother, I deserve it more. I saw how badly Alex treated my sister, and yet, I just avoided him. I should have helped you, but I was a coward. I let both you and my sister down.

He paused. “I’m sorry.”

Stacy stared angrily at her uncle, realizing that, yes, he too abandoned her. She opened her mouth to yell, but the words never came. She couldn’t bring herself to say it. It wasn’t worth it.

“It’s okay,” she replied. “I’m just glad that, you’re all here now. That I have a family.”

The entire table was relieved to hear her say that. Stacy looked around, suddenly noticing her dad arriving.

“Stacy, we’re going home,” her dad said guiltily.

“Why?” Stacy asked.

“I caused enough trouble for one day,” he replied.

Stacy was confused. “Well, okay,” she said. “But, can I say some things to my relatives first?”

Her dad frowned, thinking of his response. “Fine, go ahead.”

He walked away as Stacy faced her family.

“Um,” Stacy said. “I just wanted to ask. Could I, um…”

Stacy paused, but why? This was finally her chance, to be free of her father forever. What was she waiting for?

“You, want to stay with us?” Mrs. Zhao finished. “Is that what you wanted to say?”

“Um…yes. But, I don’t know. Everything would change, and I’m not sure, if I’m ready for it yet. And, I guess, I would feel bad for leaving Dad alone. Somehow.”

Mrs. Zhao smiled. “You don’t have to decide right now. But, just know, you don’t have to take care of Alex by yourself.”

“Yeah,” Nick said. “We’re always here to talk, cousin.”

“And listen if you need to scream sometimes!” Ian added.

Stacy grinned as her uncle prepared to speak.

“Our doors are always open for you. And I promise, from now on, I won’t abandon you again.”

Stacy walked up to her uncle and hugged him. “Thanks, uncle.”

Everyone else in the table joined in the group hug. When they released each other, Stacy prepared to leave.

“Goodbye everyone. See you all soon.”

—-

“So, why’d you leave the Smiths?” Stacy asked her dad on the way home.

“Well, they weren’t as nice as I thought,” he replied.

“Wow, you’re surprised?” she remarked.

“Don’t give me that attitude!” he yelled, but quickly corrected himself. “Well, they seemed okay at first. But then I noticed that they only ever wanted to talk about their son, Lucas.”

“Oh, him,” Stacy said.

“You know him?”

“Let’s just say, we don’t get along very well.”

“I see. So I noticed that Abby girl being all upset she was getting ignored, and it seemed like she had to deal with it for a long time. So I told them, shouldn’t they ask her how she’s been doing? But they got mad, telling me I should worry about my own family rather than butting into their affairs, and…”

“And?”

“Well, I haven’t been the best father, have I?”

Stacy was prepared to make some snide remark, but decided against it. “No, not really.”

Her dad looked sad. “Well, I’m sorry. I’m not good at this whole parenting thing. But, well, let me know what I can do to improve. To make it up to you.”

Stacy was unconvinced that his about-face would last, but it was better than nothing. “Okay. Right now, I just want to know, what did Mother say to you before she left?”

Her dad’s face sunk. “She told me she didn’t know who she was anymore. Said she needed to leave, so she could find meaning in her life again.”

“Did she say anything about me?”

“Well, yeah, she couldn’t just leave you, right? I tried to get to stay by reminding her of you. But she said was that you deserved a better role model than her. That she would just set a bad example. That was the last thing she said before she ran out the door, and she started crying just thinking about you.”

Stacy finally had an answer to the question that haunted her up until now. It wasn’t a pleasant one, but why would it be? She wished that she could talk to her mother right now, to have the chance to make everything better. But right now, all she could do was look at the moon.

Mother, I don’t know where you are right now. But, I hope you found the answer you were looking for. That you’re happy with your new life. I just wish…I can find you someday, so I can say, I’m sorry.

(next)

(table of contents)

Rhythm Heaven reminded me why I love video games

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

To get into the mood, it’s best to read this entry with this tune in the background.

About time I showcased something from one of my favourite video game genres, rhythm games. Given that I’ve dedicated a whole chapter of Fake Geek Girl Adventures to these quirky Japanese creations, I may as well go ahead and say why I love them so much.

Rhythm games, at heart, distill video games to their simplest mechanics. The screen puts up a prompt, and you press a button to react. It’s a testament to designers’ skill at audio and visual sleight-of-hand, with incredibly catchy and often surreal tunes and art styles, that this imitation game manages to be as fun and addictive as it is. People often talk of interactive novel games. Well, rhythm games are like interactive MP3 Players or juke boxes.

Rhythm Heaven looks unassuming at first, with a cover like this. But it is a good example of looks being deceiving. Like its sister series, WarioWare, its simplistic art style is used to portray an outrageously wacky world with a variegated cast of characters. Throughout the game, you’ll take on roles from relatively normal (e.g. Naive chorus kid, Idol singer, Karate man), to the surreal (Cephalopod-faced DJ trainee, frog dancer with large, sexy hips, singing Moai). The whole thing plays out like some bizarre slice-of-life variety show (hence the awesome, awesome theme I mentioned at the beginning). It’s weird to say a game with no explicit plot and simple characters has clever writing, but really, these oddballs are surprisingly endearing due to the direction the music and scenarios take in the sequel games and remixes. Also, by getting Perfects on certain games, you unlock reading material that gives you additional insight into the characters’ backgrounds and what goes on in their heads. Particularly cute are the scientists in love, which touches me on a personal level, and also goes to show just how much the game gives the impression of being for everyone.

But what makes Rhythm Heaven in particular stand out from the crowd gameplay-wise? Well, from the producer Tsunku himself,

In Japan, with games that use rhythm and sound, it’s long been the case that the placement of accents and the timing of button-presses has had nothing to do with music. For someone like myself, whose work revolves around music, this has never seemed right, and I wrote up my proposal in hopes of doing away with this.

The cleverness of the writing extends to the gameplay mechanics themselves. Sure, it’s not as intense as the highest levels of Bemani (though Rhythm Rally 2 comes close), but it comes with its own tricks not commonly found in other rhythm games. The second game, the Glee Club with the adorable Chorus Kids, makes you match the timing and duration of the other two singers’ voices, a common mechanic throughout the game. Without any button cues, I admit, it took me a while to get Superb on that game despite being a veteran of the genre. Later notable games include Big Rock Finish, in which you are given one fixed pattern, but need to match it to the tempo of various ending motifs, and Lockstep, which makes you switch between on and offbeats (the sequel making it even trickier by using a rarely heard swing beat; 1 _ 3 1 _ 3 instead of 1 2 1 2). Both of them are a pain in the butt at first, but satisfying once you get used to them (well, for me at least, my musical background made me appreciate these obscure mechanics).

Perfect mechanics are also handled in an interesting way. One game is randomly selected at a time, and if a game you achieved Superb on is that game, you have three shots at a Perfect before the cursor moves to another game. This discourages simply brute force practicing your way through a game, and encourages developing a sense of rhythm in general. The system sounds tedious and stressful, but in practice, I found it kept me moving forward through the games rather than getting stuck trying to get the Perfect so I didn’t get burned out as fast. Ironically, the way Perfects are recorded isn’t actually perfect or intuitive,* but it’s still a satisfying feat to get them all, especially because of the neat reading material I mentioned earlier that you can win.

Even if rhythm games seem to fundamentally play the same way, this game still manages to be an experience like no other. Why do I consider it a reminder of why I love video games? Because, aside from loving music in general, it’s because of its simplicity. It’s proof that you don’t need an AAA budget, just a lot of cleverness, charm, and heart. Rhythm Heaven‘s cute characters and unique gameplay, heck, even the cheesy idol songs, resonate close to my heart just as much as an epic RPG (in many cases, even more so), and it has that slice-of-life optimism that just makes me see the world in a better light.

Another thing that makes the game special? You can literally play the game with your eyes closed because the main cues are all auditory, and the visual cues are primarily for show (heck, a few games have such confusing visuals that not paying attention to them may actually be beneficial). Remember what I said about the game being for everyone? Well, Nintendo actually responded to a blind Japanese boy who loved that it was one of the few games he could play. That’s as good an endorsement of the game as any.

*Some games can be incredibly forgiving (the aforementioned Lockstep, for instance, has a very wide timing window for Perfect, while for Rockers, you can constantly stop your guitar too early and still get Perfect), while others have tight and awkward timing windows (usually that tapping even a millisecond before the beat is considered a failure, but you can tap slightly later and still count, but this is notably reversed for Rhythm Rally).

I hate the phrase “Bros before hoes”

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

The reason why should be self-evident, but unfortunately, the phrase and attitude behind it have become so culturally entrenched that many people don’t realize just how sexist it is. It is a prime example of casual misogyny; if you object to it, someone will insist it’s totally not sexist and they’re just joking.* However, joke or not, it still sends a negative message. Let’s see what Urban Dictionary has to say.

The unwritten law that your bros (male friends) should always become before hoes (female with whom you are/hoping to have a relationship with). Most used as a trump card by your bros when they feel you are becoming whipped or that your hoe is a slut and a bitch.

First, using “ho” as a stand-in for woman already sets off a red flag.** Why would you refer a significant other as a degrading term that implies she only exists for sex? One might say that it’s a defense mechanism, but the phrase is often use pre-emptively. How does one build a relationship on paranoia and suspicion?

The phrase also implies that male friends are inherently better than female friends, whether romantic or platonic. Okay, this is where I take personal issue. First off, I have gone through life with male and female friends or acquaintances, and am comfortable around people of all genders, being gender-fluid myself. I do not understand why anyone would actively choose to only surround oneself with those of the same gender and only see the opposite through romantic or sexual lenses. You’re missing out on a lot of potential friends that way.

Second, my best friend, the person I trust to always have my back through all of life’s experiences, good or bad, is female. Neither of us cared much for gender roles, we just acted as ourselves. I wouldn’t give up such a sincere friendship for anything, least of all some arbitrary, restrictive, made-up rule.

The phrase also assumes that every man (or male-born person) has a male support network, and I can tell you, that wasn’t true of me. I had plenty of negative experience with boys and men. People often talk of mean girls, but two-faced mean boys are just as prevalent (think frat culture). Many guys put on a nice front, but I was mocked when I tried to get closer to them, both behind my back and to my face. This is one reason why sincerity became my most important virtue and I’m still wary of two-faced people to this day.

In particular, my junior high school years (which I am not proud of) had me putting down girls while trying to impress boys, which was a mistake I sorely regret as the girls tended to be more cordial and friendly towards me in the long run. Even those that were rude to me were nowhere near as bad as the two-faced boys, since at least they were upfront about it (and I was genuinely an ass back then). But because I internalized “bros before hoes,” even before I heard the term directly, I was blinded to that reality. Fortunately, I learned my lesson by the time I reached grad school.

So yes, “bros before hoes” is a bullshit phrase that panders to rigid gender boundaries. Even if it’s unlikely to be banished to catchphrase purgatory, I’d like people to at least think about the implications of what they’re saying. Because aside from the obvious misogyny, I’ve gone into detail about how it hurts men too.

*Even ignoring the fact that “just a joke” tends to be an excuse, it irritates me when people say things they don’t mean. If I can’t take your insults seriously, then how can I take anything else you say seriously?

**Of course, context matters, and I do acknowledge that some people use such words as endearment terms, but that requires people to know each other well enough to understand that, and in the context of the phrase, it is definitely not meant to be endearing.

Memories of Cardcaptors

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

It was the turn of the millennium. Japanese anime was becoming increasingly popular, with big names such as Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Pokemon. Naturally, we were all excited to see what else was coming from Japan. Two iconic shows that came out in this era revolved around magical cards: Yu-Gi-Oh! and Cardcaptors. Like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon before them, they formed sort of a male/female pair, but of course, that never stopped anyone of a certain gender from liking the other show, not back then, and definitely not now. Still, they were quite different in tone. Yu-Gi-Oh was a shonen sports anime (way before esports made it big) that just happened to put people’s souls at stake, while Cardcaptors was more of a slice-of-life show that just happened to have magical trickster tarot card spirits causing trouble every so often. Both were about self-discovery and coming of age, themes that transcend gender boundaries even if they manifest themselves in different ways.

But wait, this post isn’t about Yu-Gi-Oh, is it? Funny how that became intertwined into how I view Cardcaptors anyway. Yes, I’m aware that a lot of people don’t like that name. It was an attempt to make the title more gender-neutral as opposed to the true name, Cardcaptor Sakura. Apparently, in the US, the entire thing was rewritten to appeal to boys; with more of an action focus and scenes edited to make it look like Li Syaoran (or Xiăoláng, as its spelled in Chinese pinyin) was the main character. Well, in Canada, I never got that impression that the main character was anyone but Sakura, probably because we actually got all the episodes. I understand the frustration with the edits, and indeed, I’m not really going to defend the needless censorship. Still, a highly edited dub didn’t stop 4Kids’s version of Yu-Gi-Oh from specifically having fans and defenders, one reason being the witty dialogue spouted by everyone that is actually closer to the Abridged Series than one might think.

Okay, now I’ll stop talking about Yu-Gi-Oh.* But it is strange that when I tracked down the original Japanese Cardcaptor Sakura, I ended up preferring the English version. It felt a lot like the subplot of the Simpsons episode The Haw-Hawed Couple, in which Lisa decides her dad’s made-up ending to avoid mentioning Greystash’s death in the Harry Potter parody she was reading was actually better than canon. But why? It took a while for me to figure that out, but with the increasing celebration of gender fluidity in modern times, it finally hit me.

Sakura in the English version was one of the rare tomboy magical girls who had the coveted protagonist status. I mean, sure, Japanese Sakura was into sports and wore her hair short, but she was still your typical cutesy girly girl. In contrast, the English dub played up her tomboyish traits. Her voice was low-pitched and often had a more assertive tone, and she could be quite sassy in multiple instances. Yet, she still wore miniskirts and dresses and had a fondness for cute things. And the best part? Here was a girl who was quite androgynous in presentation, and no one questioned it. No one treated it as strange, no one tried to convince her to be more masculine or feminine. She was just comfortable being herself. In her world, androgyny was perfectly normal and unremarkable, and so too did it become so in my world.

It was a stark contrast to most other characters I had seen at the time, and even until now. Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girls, Helga Pataki from Hey Arnold!, Jade Chan from Jackie Chan Adventures, Rika from Digimon Tamers, all very cool and interesting characters, but they were clearly on the tomboyish side of the spectrum. Sakura and Meilin, on the other hand, were closer to the middle (heck, Meilin was a lot like the other tomboy characters, except more cutesy and girly in appearance and attitude). They taught me that, no, wearing a short skirt doesn’t automatically disqualify you from being assertive, hanging out with boys, or having masculine-coded interests. Expressions of femininity are just as valid as masculine expression coming from anyone. I know that Sakura’s personality change was probably done to appeal to boys, but in that case, her androgyny was a happy accident. Indeed, I have fond memories of the Nelvana dub precisely because I rarely ever get to see an androgynous character like her. It’s similar to why Power Rangers has such enduring popularity. Sure, the original season had corny dialogue and people in rubber suits, but a wide demographic of kids could look at those teenagers and think, “Hey, I can role play a Power Ranger too!”

Meilin also deserves a paragraph to herself, because of how much she changed in my view from a superfluous character I expected to totally hate into one of my all-time favourite anime characters. She didn’t give the best first impression, being whiny, mostly useless in capturing cards, seemingly only cared about crushing on Xiăoláng, and just came of as your typical unlikable third wheel character. But I was surprised just how much I ended up liking her. For all her faults, she tries really hard at everything she does and when it really matters, she’s ready to rush in to help her friends. Plus, when I realized why she was such a bitch (she had a massive inferiority complex over being screwed by destiny and not being the almighty Chosen One with bullshit main character powers), I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Besides, her sarcastic dialogue was simply so hilarious (“How can I be so perfect at everything else, yet I am lousy at baking a stupid cake?”; “Is hypothermia part of the curriculum?”; (in response to Sakura saying she’s happy to see everyone together again) “Really, you mean that’s it?”; and so much more) that I’m glad that she remained a bitch to the very end. Especially considering just how much girls are socialized to be passive and polite, seeing someone who doesn’t give a damn about any of that and just speaks her mind is very refreshing. And yes, while the whole secondary Asian love interest getting dumped for the default race lead character (in this case, Chinese rather than the default Japanese) is a grating trend in general, in this case, Meilin is likable enough that I can forgive it just this once. Sort of.

Meilin is also special to me for another reason. I began to imagine what it would be like to be around someone like her, someone not afraid to chew me out when I deserved it, but I knew I could count on when I needed a friend the most. In essence, I made a subconscious wish for a friend like her. Years later, I would meet a girl in my lab group who also had a cute face and a hyperactive and cheerful, but blunt and sarcastic attitude. We eventually became best friends, sharing our successes, eccentricities, and inferiority complexes. One time, we had a discussion on what role we’d play as TV show characters, and months, I realized, she acted a lot like an anime character. Slowly, I made the connection to Meilin, and was amazed. Never did I imagine my wish would actually come true, but it did!

To some extent, I’ve outgrown Cardcaptor Sakura. My tastes have shifted darker (like Grimm Fairy Tales or even Simpsons / Hey Arnold! dark), and the series overall is a bit too saccharine for me nowadays. The manga continuation doesn’t seem to be doing much for me either. Still, it’s a fond memory for me, and I feel compelled to preserve the memory of the English dub. It’s weird to want to keep alive the memory of something most would rather forget, but it’s one of those cases where one fan’s worthless trash is another fan’s beloved Garbodor. If I got to see another magical series with an androgynous protagonist, I may join in the chorus of hate, but not likely. Besides, the Nelvana dub also has some amazingly memorable music, most of all Guardian of the Cards. That, definitely, is worth remembering.

*By the way, my favourite Yu-Gi-Oh! character is the camp, androgynous manchild Maximillion Pegasus. Okay, now I’m done.