Some fictional media things I dislike

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

One of my motivations for writing reviews is to show things from a perspective that doesn’t get brought up very often. At first, I went in thinking I’d do both things I liked and hated, but then I realized: it’s actually more fun to either defend things that most people are indifferent to or hate or promote artists that are relatively obscure in the public eye. Besides, there are so many angry online critics out there that the schtick’s gotten old. Still, there are quite a few things that I have particular antipathy towards, so I may as well compile them here.

  • Atlas Shrugged: Judging it solely on its merits as a novel, it’s essentially a narcissist’s poorly written revenge fantasy against the world, where rationality means blindly trusting in some magic metal and that most people will sit through 60 page speeches without falling asleep. The fact that people consider something so unrealistic a meaningful political statement would be hilarious if some of those people weren’t actually in charge of nations.
  • Metroid: Other M: The game’s infamy has already been well documented, so I’ll just sum it up as one of the most badass women in video games being reduced to a whiny, useless anime waifu. On the plus side, it’s also become an iconic example of how not to write a video game story, and serves as a counterargument to the idea of the creator’s original vision being something sacred and inviolable.
  • Torchwood: It’s a breakthrough in homosexual representation with the entire cast being casually pansexual. And it has a potentially interesting message about how powerless humanity really is in the face of the wider universe through deconstructing the secret agent genre. All this is wasted on an unlikable, incompetent cast. Seriously, the Season 1 finale has the Torchwood crew nearly doom the world by committing mutiny against their leader and opening a dangerous dimensional rift for no reason, and somehow, they’re all forgiven and keep their jobs.
  • Pokemon Origins: People love it because it’s a faithful adaptation of the original Pokemon games’ story. Except it’s a completely soulless, paint-by-numbers rendition of a story that was considered mediocre even at the time, and even its supposed faithfulness is betrayed by Red’s bullshit main character powers. For all the original anime’s faults, at least you never doubted that Ash cared about his Pokemon, whereas Red seems to treat his goals like a mere checklist. It’s one of the laziest examples of nostalgia bait there is.
  • Hearthstone: For normalizing the concept of needing to either pay hundreds of hours or hundreds of dollars before you can start having fun. The time or money spent on these free-to-play games could instead go towards many more productive things, like better video games that you only have to pay for once.

Dishonourable Mentions:

  • Toy Story 3: It’s not bad on its own merits, but it doesn’t do things much different from Toy Story 2 or The Brave Little Toaster, and comes off as emotionally manipulative nostalgia bait. Which makes it all the worse when people exalt this movie as the finest animation has to offer and dismiss anyone who criticizes it as a troll. I mean, it’s important to have dissenting views, or else critics may as well just be advertisers.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Again, not the worst thing out there, and I actually like Homura quite a bit, but it primarily comes off as a clever deconstruction to those who haven’t actually read or watched many fairy tales or magical girls. Seriously, the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, for instance, have plenty of stories that are just as dark and morbid relative to their Disney counterparts. Heck, the Full Moon wo Sagashite manga already beat Madoka to the punch in disguising a grim story about death in cutesy idol singer clothes. Also, the non-Homura characters are pretty underdeveloped considering the magical girl genre is driven by compelling characters and relationships.
  • The Social Network: For having one of the most insipid, objectifying portrayals of an Asian woman character I’ve ever seen. Imagine a tabletop RPG where all the white guys get cool, awesome characters, while the only character available to you has no role other than being the white guys’ fetish toy. And you’re supposedly the voice of a generation. Yeah, I know Asian fetishism isn’t exclusive to this movie, but after seeing so many awesome Asian women on screen and in real life, it was an unpleasant reminder of how Hollywood still sees us.
  • The Literary Canon: Honestly, classic literature fans are some of their worst advocates. I’m confident that saying that you need to read specific dead white male literature in order to be purer than the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd does more to turn people away from classic literature than anything else (other than English class making reading into the most boring chore ever). Which is a shame, because many of the classics really are worth reading on their own merits. Perhaps classicists could take a cue from the Jane Austen fanbase in making those books actually sound fun.
Advertisements

Who is Seiko Oomori?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

For the uninitiated:

This is Seiko Oomori. After you’ve seen the video, you’re probably wondering, “What’s with this girl?” Well, strap yourself in, because it’s a long story.

The Anti-Idol Paradox

A lot of Anglophone commentators refer to her as an anti-idol. At first glance, one can see why she has this reputation. This is your typical idol song:

Pretty much fluffy bubblegum pop sung by teenage to young adult girls in cutesy skirts and high-pitched squeaky voices. It’s a huge phenomenon in Japan right now, to the point that they’re the centre of a lot of popular anime, video games, and anime conventions. Their appeal stems from them being girl-next-door archetypes, symbols of innocence and purity who fans can admire and follow closely. The genre is also fairly controversial, especially to people outside Japan, since idols’ images are highly controlled by management, their interactions with older male fans can be off-putting, and, well, they’re manufactured pop acts. Even other Japanese musicians will avoid the idol label because it carries a lack of talent connotation. But not Seiko. Despite being a very talented singer-songwriter who plays her own instruments, elements that tend to get an artist promoted as supposedly sticking it to the fakeness of the music industry (often by the music industry itself, funnily enough), she has nothing but admiration for idols.

Sure, at first glance and listen, she seems to subvert everything idols stand for. Many of her songs take perky, catchy idol melodies and turn them into something twisted and dissonant, often with pretty depressing lyrics and themes, and she can belt out some pretty sweet punk bangers. It helps that she also rose to prominence at around the same time that Brand-New Idol Society was literally declaring “IDOL IS DEAD” and mucking about with their violent, grotesque antics. And yet, calling her anti-idol is ironic. She endlessly fawns over Sayumi Michishige of Morning Musume, to the point of writing an entire song about her and even showing off her Sayumi body pillow (yes, really). She regularly writes the usual fluffy fare for other idols, and has a song in her own repertoire cheering idols on with their own catchphrases. If anything, she’s probably the biggest idol fangirl out there, and has done way more than most to promote them. To be honest, while there is merit in the subversion of idol conventions, I feel the “anti-idol” label has snobbery connotations coming from people who think they’re too good for pop music, which they end up projecting onto artists like Seiko even though it doesn’t really fit (worth noting that BiS isn’t truly against idols either; Pour Lui was also inspired by Morning Musume to start the group, and many people are fans of both traditional and alternative idols since they often intermingle).

Indeed, Seiko has repeatedly expressed her annoyance with being pigeonholed by labels, and deliberately contradicts herself to confound people. Her music is similarly all over the place, with her albums alternating between low-key and introspective to loud and in-your-face bombastic. If you pick any of her songs at random (or even from the above links), it’s like a genre roulette. And yet, you can instantly recognize her distinct voice and style, like there’s a common thread tying all her music together that says Seiko Oomori. At this point, one could say that’s her hook. She does her own thing, not giving a crap what people think, and is rewarded for standing out from the crowd. She’s a loud and vocal Japanese woman in a culture which primarily promotes conformity and submissiveness, and people admire that in her as a result. Heck, I myself find her (and alternative idols as a whole) a very welcome addition to the male-dominated punk genre, especially since up until being introduced to the likes of her and BiS, I’ve never seen punks that were so unapologetic girly before. Representation for the win, yo.

And yet, I still think there’s still more to the story.

The Menhera Connection

This is where I have to post a disclaimer: Be very careful with the term Menhera. Like with anything related to mental health, there’s a loaded, derogatory connotation to the term because of how stigmatized and misunderstood mental illness is. However, I post about it because I feel it’s key to truly understanding Seiko Oomori’s appeal.

Menhera, in short, refers to those seeking mental well-being. It has spawned its own variant of kawaii subculture, a kind of corrupted cuteness showcasing girls wearing their emotional wounds out in the open (for instance, its mascot, Menhera-chan). The whole thing may seem like Derelicte-style appropriation of mental health issues, but the key distinction is that it’s a form of self-expression by those who identify as Menhera, and not an outsider taking advantage of that self-expression (we hope).

In a way, it makes sense. Society generally expects people to hide their emotional pain, especially in a conformist society like Japan which doesn’t like people rocking the boat (heck, in the Japanese context, Menhera often gets used against anyone who shows nonconformist behaviour, similar to how the word “deviant” in English tends to be used primarily in a negative sense). Menhera art, in contrast, shows cracks in the happy, cutesy metaphorical mask, laying bare the troubled person underneath.

Seiko Oomori’s music sounds like it would fit in that mold, given that she has a tendency to go all in with her emotions, and she repeatedly sings about death and emptiness. Her passion is best heard in the opening song I posted, Ongaku wo Suteyo, Soshite Ongakue (Cast aside music, then move towards music), in which she repeatedly screams out the words “Music is not magic, but music is…,” sounding louder and more desperate with each iteration. And the album this song was first released on? Its name translates to “If I can’t use magic, I want to die.” As Ryo Miyauchi so aptly put it, “she actually takes this music thing very seriously.” So much so, that she became absolutely livid when another band retorted with “Music is magic.” (for context, it’s sort of like replying to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” in how it misses the point).

But again, Oomori isn’t the type you can easily pin down with labels (although “Menhera artist” arguably makes more sense than “anti-idol,” since she’s not doing it for shock value, but out of sincerity). Keita has argued that she herself is not Menhera, but a spokeswoman for Menhera. She doesn’t just wallow in her suffering, but by laying bare her heart, she also sends a message of strength and hope, that it’s possible to overcome pain. This, I’m convinced, is Seiko’s true power. The source of her magic.

The Patron Saint of the Shit and Ugly

I haven’t yet posted my personal favourite Seiko Oomori song, but now is time to bask in its glory.

This is it. The climax of her output thus far. Idol punk at its finest. A giant FUCK YOU to society’s norms from the voice of a cute Japanese woman who cast herself as a god trapped in a mortal’s body. The opening line? “Once upon a time, there were men and women and others.” Yes, she went there (it’s fitting that on the same album, she sang with the non-binary Noko of Shinsei Kamattechan). The rest? Well, I’ll just quote Ryo Miyauchi:

Hearing a musician who vaguely looks like me (at least from a foreigner’s eye) scream things like “I can’t even go outside in this body without putting on make up,” “I don’t really want to get married, I’m content, so don’t mind me,” or “ugly or just a piece of shit, I want to change the world” in my first language shattered my world. Now, watching her do the same but for a live audience? It’s a miracle any part of “Dogma Magma” was even allowed for broadcast in the first place.

I want to draw attention to the line, “Even the shit and ugly want to change the world.” It’s so powerful, Seiko even released a T-shirt of it. It ties in perfectly with the song’s thesis, that everyone deserves to be God, no matter who you are. And this is why her connection to Menhera subculture is relevant. Whether she identifies with the label is not as important as her sticking up for those who identify as Menhera, empowering those that most of society neglects. She may be a deviant idol, yet she, like all idols, makes music to spreading happiness and optimism to others.

And her next album’s opening song reaches out to her listeners in a more personal sense.

By laying bare her own insecurities as an artist, (Every second I die and am reborn again
Pick up the corpses one by one, and love; It’s scares me to have a moment that suits you turned into forever), she’s offering herself as a metaphorical sacrifice to the listener to convince them to live. One of the top voted comments has a commenter point out that she uploaded this video on September 1, which is infamous in Japan for being the day in which the most suicides occur in the country. After hearing her message, they are looking forward to school tomorrow even though they were late on that day.

I don’t think a YouTube comment has ever moved me to tears before, but I can’t help myself when reading that.

Every morning on Twitter, she posts a peppy message encouraging herself and others to make the best of the day. Such a thing may normally sound like trite lines from a self-help booklet, but remember, it’s in the context of a large part of her fanbase going through depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders. Fans constantly talk about Seiko saving them and her music having a healing effect that helps them keep going in their lives. It’s no wonder she’s so passionate about music, as she in turn is saved by them. The lyrics of Magic Mirror are dedicated to them (e.g. My fame shines only for your loneliness). Her words carry special meaning because she’s one of them. One of us.

I’ve written before about how amazing it is to see a movie accurately portray mental illness, even if many people don’t see that implication. I feel similarly about Seiko Oomori, like my personal media tastes were leading me to her music all along. I was always weird, but bottled up my negative feelings because I was used to people not giving a shit (with rare exceptions who I call friends). A lot of positive messaging didn’t work on me because I couldn’t relate to it (at worst, it would remind me of my North American suburban upbringing, a culture seemingly dedicated to turning a blind eye to people’s problems). But once I became obsessed with Seiko, I finally understood. All this time, I didn’t need to be told I wasn’t broken. What I needed to hear, was that I was broken, but that’s okay. Indeed, what motivated me to learn more about her as a person was reading Sayumi’s letter to her; in particular, the part about her learning from Seiko that it was okay to let out her negative emotions. That was particularly impactful coming from one of the most iconic idols out there. Even those who seem happy and well-adjusted are often hiding some deep insecurity, and it takes someone special that one can trust with one’s emotions to let them out. I guess that’s why I still believe in idol culture after all; it’s constantly showing how powerful female friendship can be.

All this is why I wanted to spread the word about one of the most interesting artists to come out of Japan. I have barely any knowledge of Japanese, and have relied on external sources to translate information about Seiko, so if anything I say is inaccurate, please let me know. For now, though, you can learn more about Seiko Oomori through the following links:

On the Parkland shooting: Seventeen not Forgotten?

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Hear the children sing For the sick and suffering!

The city of damage control! This is how we…

Green Day

Every year in Canada, we hold a memorial to the 14 victims of the Ecole Polytechnique mass shooting. It’s a horrendous event that left a scar on our nation, a lasting reminder of how dangerous misogyny really is, and led to Parliament immediately introducing a law tightening restrictions on firearms. We call it 14 not Forgotten, one reason being that we want to make sure it stays 14. Also, last year, a pro-gun group tried to protest on the day of the memorial, and we collectively told them to fuck off.

Similarly, the UK has been scarred by the Dunblane Massacre which killed 16 children and 1 teacher. That led to the government banning almost all firearms (the Conservative government, in fact), and they haven’t had a school shooting since. Australia and Germany were also quick to tighten firearm restrictions after their own school shootings.

I’m not saying this out of hatred for the USA, quite the opposite. Reflecting on our own horrors with gun violence only makes it more depressing to see this kind of thing be repeated again and again in the country. Every time a school gets shot up, Republicans shed crocodile thoughts and prayers (while having the sheer gall to accuse Obama of shedding crocodile tears for something that shouldn’t be routine, but is). The media mentions gun control legislation for a while, and promptly forgets about it. They use mental illness as a scapegoat, propose vague, empty solutions while continuing to shut down any suggestions of improving the health care system, and promptly forgets about it. The fact that school shooters tend to espouse horrendously misogynistic and racist rhetoric online? They don’t even mention it because then they might have to look at themselves in the mirror or something. Gun nuts only get more obsessed with their murder toys and yell at everyone else until the rest of the country gets sick of arguing. Then another school gets shot up, and we go through this all over again, with Republicans and gun nuts desperately hoping we don’t get a sense of deja vu and that we all forget the other times this happened. In the words of Dan Hodges’ infamous tweet:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

Dare I hope this time, things might be different? The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School certainly aren’t forgetting, and they want to make sure no one else does, as if, well, teenagers’ lives matter or something.* Teachers and other students have joined in on walk-out protests, and they’re even taking it to the legislature. Of course, for their bravery, the right-wing pundits like Fox News have went after them. They claim teenagers have no right to talk back to adults, that they don’t understand anything about complex political issues (like whether murder toys are more important than human lives), that they’re just stooges for some left-wing conspiracy.

Everyone who hears something like this should be disgusted. These pundits deserve to be forever black marked for their sheer callous lack of empathy. This isn’t the first time adults have acted as if young people have no rights, but this crosses the line into pure evil (and I don’t use that word lightly).

So I’m fully behind the Parkland students and applaud them for fighting for their basic human rights, something that much of their older generation has forgotten. People around the world are rooting for you, and we should all do what we can to ensure that this time, we will not accept children’s deaths as collateral damage, and that the seventeen who lost their lives will not be forgotten.

Say a prayer for the ones that we love.

Say a prayer for the ones that we love.

Say a prayer for the ones that we love.

Say goodbye to the ones that we love.

*I don’t intend to make light of Black Lives Matter. Police shootings are every bit as appalling as school shootings, and the fact that black people have been fighting for their right to live for much longer goes to show just how embedded racism and lack of empathy are in the fabric of our culture. In fact, I suspect Black Lives Matter may have encouraged the Parkland students to rise up by laying the groundwork.

My strange feelings towards Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

It seems we’ve really been getting a lot of revivals recently. We had a new Sailor Moon, a new Dragon Ball, and now it’s Sakura’s turn. She’s supposedly in middle school now, but it seems none of the characters have aged a bit. I guess I should find that charming, in the sense of re-connecting with old friends, but all I can think of is how much of the new episodes are recycled content. Even The Force Awakens, as nostalgia pandering as that was, introduced different characters that could take things in interesting new directions (and say what you will about Last Jedi, but it certainly was interesting). On the other hand, Sakura’s just off collecting new cards that just so happen to resemble the old cards, having new dreams that resemble the old dreams, characters are making the same old jokes they did before, and no one even displays a hint of self-aware deja vu about it. It’s the safest and least ambitious thing I’ve seen since Pokemon Origins, and normally, this is where I’d simply dismiss it as cynical nostalgia bait, baffled as to how so many people can fall for it.

And yet, if I did so, I wouldn’t be writing this entry right now. I mean, I didn’t write a Pokemon Origins entry for those reasons, but Cardcaptor Sakura is different. It means something to me.

At this point, I ought to make a confession. I never felt like a Cardcaptor fan. Sure, I love the show, and, as I had previously explained, it does occupy a special place in my heart. However, I like it for reasons that are different from almost everyone else. Whereas most people dismissed Nelvana Sakura as a brat that was an insult to the real Sakura, I saw in her a rare androgynous magical girl I could actually relate to. My favourite character in the entire series is Meilin, and she not only tends to get neglected, if not hated by the wider fanbase, but she wasn’t even in the original manga. In fact, a major reason I’m particularly attached to Meilin and Touya/Tori (my second favourite character) is because they’re less goody-two shoes than the rest of the cast and injected some welcome sarcasm into the group dynamic. In the context of the show, it didn’t matter how offbeat my opinions were. No one made a single comment about Sakura’s androgyny, but instead thought she was awesome for it. The characters, especially Sakura herself, accepted Meilin and called her a good friend even despite her bitchiness. The anime may not have had the most interesting plot, but it was refreshing escapism at the time. Unusual girls tend to be portrayed and treated as outcasts in most fiction, even when they’re heroes, but in the context of Cardcaptors, unusual was totally normal.

And then I met the show’s online fandom. Make no mistake, it’s one of the nicer fandoms. However, when I never hear anything but scorn for the Nelvana dub that was such a key formative aspect of my childhood, it makes my opinions feel, illegitimate, ya know? Like, there’s this cognitive dissonance with hearing people praise the show for being so inclusive, yet have your feelings and experience be excluded. It didn’t help that it took me until adulthood to actually understand why I felt that way about something everyone hated (heck, the reason I wrote the Memories entry, along with the one for the Grinch movie, was because I saw no one else make those arguments). Until then, Cardcaptor Sakura fandom felt to me like a group of people having fun without me. So when I see people go nuts about the revival series, I get the feeling that, maybe, I have such a low opinion of it because it’s like a party I wasn’t invited to. It wasn’t meant for me. And it never was, because I’m not a real fan anyway, but just a weirdo playing in the corner alone.

I know all that was quite personal, perhaps even petty. But those are the feelings that comes flooding back to me whenever I see Clear Card, and I felt it was important to be honest about them since it would influence my opinions of the anime whether I said them or not. There’s also me growing up with series that aged with me, most famously Harry Potter. If I see a new installment of something I’ve liked in the past, I’ve become accustomed to expecting new perspectives that come with becoming older or that acknowledge how things have changed in the present day. In contrast, with the new series, Cardcaptor Sakura seems permanently frozen in time, with the characters remaining static icons. I do not understand the appeal of such a thing, and it even creeps me out a bit. I mean, sure, my idea of a continuation would have a teenage Meilin cursing out everyone, and that’s good reason to be grateful I’m nowhere near the production of the anime. But it would have been nice to at least see Sakura come to terms with using her existing cards responsibly rather than go chase new cards. I’m not asking for an edgelord makeover, just a bit more coming-of-age maturity similar to some of the better Spiderman stories.

Well, those are my confused feelings towards some nostalgic kiddie anime. I hope it was at least an interesting second opinion on things, despite all the personal baggage.

On being a “content creator”

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

It seems to be a term bandied about a lot these days. An awful, vacuous, insipid, empty, meaningless term. People never refer to the artists from antiquity as “content creators.” No, they’re sculptors, architects, authors, essayists, poets, musicians. In more modern times, we have film directors, television producers, game programmers, the list goes on. However, if you publish something online, somehow, those titles are too prestigious. Bloggers are not seen as essayists. Online video producers are not even seen as amateur film makers. No, just “content creators.”

What does “content” mean? Since the term virtually only gets used to refer to online submissions, we can gleam its connotative meaning by how online submissions are typically perceived: quantitatively. Web material is judged by numbers; how many views, likes, or re-shares a post receives. This, of course, turns content creation into a popularity contest. Importantly, people lose interest if you’re not constantly pushing out material. Whereas offline artists will take their time and may take a few years to release new material, online creators feel pressured to produce at a much faster rate to keep the views and likes up. The advent of 24/7 streaming is the natural consequence of this rating system.

But with so much content being produced, how much of it is actually memorable? A lot of it seems disposable. Those awful, attention-seeking prank videos that thrive on bad taste. Glorified infomercials for big video game companies. Even forum posts are considered “content creation,” you know, those messages that you post once and never see again, and are generally equated with the sewer of the Internet. If that is considered “content”, then being a content creator doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t say anything about the quality of the material you produce, and is too broad a term to set you apart from someone else. It’s a illusory title, meant to sound more prestigious than it actually is.

I’ve been thinking about this term recently, since I’m starting to get more involved in creating things. I wouldn’t want my stories, blog posts, or music videos to be labelled as mere content. Whenever I post my essays here, I do so because I have something on my mind, and I post sparingly since I want to give off the impression I have something meaningful to say rather than just contributing more meaningless noise to an already cluttered information sphere. Obviously, not every post is equal, but I hope that some of my posts will resonate with people. That people don’t just read and forget it, but it sticks with them, and they refer back to it from time to time, if only mentally. I don’t expect to change people’s minds, but it would be nice if people ended up seeing things from a different perspective.

What I’d like to create, are memories.

2018: Time for a paradigm shift

It’s about time for the blog in its current state to end. Originally, it was meant to be a diary in which I could anonymously express my feelings without anyone in my life knowing. However, once I started posting my story draft here, with the intent of eventually rewriting it for publication, I knew the blog would no longer be able to fulfill that purpose. Becoming a successful author requires name recognition, which compromises my anonymity, but in fact, the conflict extends beyond writing.

Something has changed significantly in my life in the past year, something that now allows me to pursue life goals I would never have thought possible. However, my renewed path requires me to exercise greater control over my public image, since anything you say or do can be used against you. Right now, I’ve been cushioned by the blog not attracting a huge audience, but things may not stay that way forever. So there will be sweeping changes.

I’m reluctant to end the blog entirely, since there are several posts I would like to preserve. Most likely, I may end up transferring them to a new alias. However, I definitely will take down Fake Geek Girl Adventures eventually, since I won’t be able to keep it up if I actually want to officially publish it, and it needs serious re-writing anyways. For those who have been reading up until now, I hope you found my posts interesting, and enjoy the new year.

What is genderfluidity?

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Genderfluidity is freedom.

It means having more options available, options that would be otherwise be effectively verboten to those with a fixed gender.

It means flexibility, versatility. To transcend the artificial boundaries. To experiment with arbitrarily gender-coded attributes, intermingle them, and possibly create something unique and wonderful in the process.

It means no limits, not being aware there was supposed to be a rule against something because of the way you were born, or being aware of it and not caring. Because it’s a stupid rule anyway.

It means being able to experience the entirety of the human condition, to feel comfortable making friends with anyone regardless of gender, to know how every side feels affection differently.

It means being whole. One does not need to complete their yin with another’s yang or vice versa, because they already know how to harness both.

Most people, at least in European cultures, do not believe such a thing exists. And yet, they’ve been endlessly fascinated by the concept of transmuting one’s gender in fantasy: switching genders to understand the other’s mindset, switching genders to become closer to their loved ones, imagining, drawing, or even cosplaying fictional characters as the opposite sex. Clearly, there’s a will for such an ability.

It’s no fantasy. Many cultures have acknowledged third genders since antiquity, and only now are other cultures catching on. But it’s nice, finally realizing that such a thing is indeed possible thanks to the efforts of those who insist on making themselves seen and heard.

It’s no curse. It may feel that way when those who don’t understand it treat it as such, but they are limited by fear of the strange and unusual. Being strange and unusual, you are not. Those words imply that you cannot conform to social norms. And if you cannot, that means you don’t have to.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. All I know is that there are so many places to go, and I want to experience all of it.

Fake Geek Girl Adventures 1-Epilogue: Two Worlds

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

(previous)

“Hi again, Lydie. Long time no see.”

“Good to see you again, Stacy. Sorry, I’ve been busy with school.”

“It’s fine.”

Stacy gazed quizzically at Lydia’s Santa dress. “Aren’t you cold?”

Lydia smiled. “After being on the ice for a while, not really.”

“Ooh, I’ve always wanted to try skating. Well, ice skating, that is.”

Lydia chuckled. “Say, how’s roller derby treating you?”

Stacy rubbed her face. “Still getting pushed around a lot.”

“Having fun at least?”

Stacy grinned. “Heck yeah!”

“Good. Well, I’m still getting used to staying balanced myself. Luckily, Sayaka’s been a great teacher.”

Stacy was curious. “Sayaka?”

“Friend of mine from school. We met a couple of years ago at the music festival.”

“Oh, I see,” Stacy replied, smiling nervously. “Well, it’s great that you get to see each other more regularly.”

“Indeed. Say, how’s school treating you?”

Stacy sighed in relief. “Fine, I guess. It was hard, but I managed to get at least an A- in everything, even English! Oliver saved my butt there.”

“Good to hear. I wasn’t so fortunate, though. Got a B in Honours Physics.”

Stacy gasped. “What? How?”

Somehow still smiling, Lydia replied, “Tried fitting too much in my schedule, so between my other courses and student clubs, I was overwhelmed. Oh well, lesson learned.”

Stacy was weirdly comforted to learn that Lydia wasn’t perfect after all, but annoyed at herself for feeling that way. “What clubs are you participating in, anyway?”

“The University Cosplay Club, for one. Planning to run for a VP position next year.”

Stacy’s eyes widened in excitement. “Wow, that’s great! I’m hoping to have a costume ready for CherryCon myself!”

“Who are you going as?”

“Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.”

Lydia paused. “Never heard of her.”

Stacy grinned, sending an image of her to Lydia. “She’s this nerd who becomes a warrior princess in a fantasy video game world.”

Lydia admired the image. “Ah, interesting choice. Yes, I can definitely help you put her outfit together…provided I have time, of course.”

“No problem, Lydie. I’ll try to come up with something first. But maybe if I go to the city some time, we can meet up and finish it together!”

“That would be nice. Anyway, it’s been nice talking to you again, but I’ve got a Christmas party to go to. See you around, Anastasia, and best wishes for the new year.”

Stacy giggled, and Lydia’s eyes dilated in surprise, impressed she wasn’t annoyed this time. “Merry Christmas, Lydia. I hope everything goes well for you too!”

Lydia giggled in return. “Thank you. Farewell.”

“See ya!”

Lydia shut down her computer after ending the conversation with Stacy, prepared to leave for the bus. As she felt the chilly breeze on her leggings, she remembered what it was really like to be on the ice with Sayaka.

“Just hold on to me, okay? If you fall, I’ll be here to catch you.”

She grimaced at how cheesy that sounded in hindsight, but she felt her hands becoming warm, as if she was gliding along with her once again.

Meanwhile, Stacy looked down at her desk, admiring the anime-style portrait on the notebook in front of her. Anastasia, Princess of Dreams. Clad in a beautiful jade dress and matching glasses, she was smiling back at her mirror image, an unsure-looking girl in Stacy’s usual outfit, all while the superpowered Oliver, Cheryl, and Tori struck dramatic poses in front of Crystalia’s shining palace. Stacy couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw that in the mail this morning.

“Who made this?” her dad asked.

“A friend from school, Tori!” she told him. “She’s really good at this kind of thing.”

He looked on admiringly. “You have amazing friends.”

And then he added his own signature to the other side of the front cover! Stacy thought. It was the nicest thing he did in ages, and for once, it felt like they were a real family. She sighed dreamily as she opened the book.

“Thanks, everyone,” she said, as she read the message inside.

Thank you for all you’ve done for us this year. We know life doesn’t always go the way you want it to, but you’ve always been an inspiration for us. Sorry it took so long, but I hope Princess Anastasia will bring as much hope to you as she has already done for us. Merry Christmas, and we can’t wait for the adventures that we’ll have in the New Year!

Best wishes,

Tori, Oliver, Cheryl, Ren, Colin, Sofia, Nick, Ian, Min, Lian, Nataliya, Myska, Nabila, Ahmed, Alexander

(table of contents)

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.

(next)

(table of contents)

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)