It was a moment when arguing was up a blind alley, and that remaining silent was the best way of protecting yourself. The vertically challenged lady’s friends came and helped her put the blame on me. The usual stack in my high school fairy tale, oh I’m so used to this. People in this school just loved making mountains out of molehills. They said I splashed the drink to her on purpose. It was not a big deal, really. It was just a dress and a cold spill of juice. Howbeit, fighting them would be like fighting a city hall.
“Do you even know how much this cost?!” She demanded an answer, contracting muscles on her neck with egregious eyes.
“Thousands.” Her friend with bony cheeks cut in.
How illogical. Who would buy a dress that expensive just for tonight?
“I bet you stole that dress you’re wearing.” The other one said, crossing her arms with clenched fists. She had this grimace on her face. "Or are you a sly fox in sheep’s clothing?”
“Your family can’t even replace that old blue truck your poor father drives to block the school gates. Are you saying you can afford to buy me a dress?”
Her words stilled me. Heaviness invaded my chest. Every time those words were used against me, feelings of animosity started seeping in. They don’t know anything. Enjoying myself when Akito just died, I guessed it was karma talking to me. Akito…
“I’m sorry.” Being contrite, I clasped my arm in a reflex, squeezing myself.
Charles came. The ladies rapidly changed their expressions as if they could not believe the president was before them. I thought I saw bony cheeks tucking her blonde hair behind her ears. They were delighted. For me, it was like a horror movie.
“Excuse me ladies.” He grabbed my wrist and all hell broke loose as he pulled me out of the room. Suddenly, everything was in slow motion, romantic sound and blooming flowers swept me out of my mind. The crowd was looking at us, it felt like magic, but with their piercing eyes (one way to burst my bubble of fantasy); I wished time would stay slow. Nonetheless, this was adding fuel to the fire; the situation was making it worse. Although there was concern in those blue eyes, I was not sure if he was thinking about shorty. Did he believe her? Is he mad at me?
“I’m sorry.” I repeated.
He nodded as if he understood. Only the faint lively music coming from downstairs was helping the momentary silence. He placed both his arms to his back as we waited for Chelsea. With a squeeze, I felt guilty with her cleaning that mess. With many people still looking, scanning me from head to foot, with the president beside me, all I could do was bow down my head and do nothing but repent.
Chelsea’s heels were clicking as she followed us out. “What happened in there?” Chelsea asked.
“I splashed my smoothie… I’m sorry.” I said reaching the back of my neck to give myself another squeeze. “Just a faux pas.”
I met Charles’s soft gaze. “Be careful next time.” He said.
“The dress didn’t even suit her. I think she only wore that to flaunt her fake boobs.” Chelsea said rolling her eyes.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” One guy said. I saw him with Chelsea before, Kyle maybe? Raven hair and eyes like hers, medium dark skin with a touch of golden yellow undertones, tall and lean. His smile made his eyes disappear. He pulled her close and planted a kiss on her ear, but Chelsea waved him off. The pair exchanged a glance so filled with years of special bond. I glanced up in time to catch the ephemeral expression of envy in Charles’s eyes.
“How was it?” Chelsea asked.
“It was very entertaining. I learned a lot. It felt like I was in grade school being taught on why people using stainless steel chopsticks are smarter and more logical. It was that same feeling when I first learned about that--”
“Did he teach you how to use stainless steel chopsticks?” Charles joked.
Kyle stifled a chuckle. “No, no.” He lifted his arm for a high-five then slamming their shoulders like gangsters do their handshakes. “We’re doing great, man.” He then turned to me, saluting. “Nice to finally meet you, Sammy. I have heard a lot about you from our lovely president.” Charles grabbed him and scuffed his head.
“Oh come on, boys.”
“I’ve been looking for you, guys.” Ichigo exclaimed and tapped Charles stomach with the back of her hand. “So, where are you up to now?”
“I’m heading to the gymnasium--”
“I’m coming with you, Pres.” Kyle said.
“Ugh, I’m not going in there. Stinky sweats of boys are just a no-no to me. I’m out.”
“High school is all about sports and clubs, you spoiled brat.” Chelsea reproved.
“Are you going with them?” Ichigo asked me, but when I was about to answer, she said “No, you’re not. You’re coming with me.”
Charles laughed. “We have girls playin’ too--” Ichigo shook her head no. “The gymnasium is really big. Really--”
“Still, na-ah! There’s nothing to drink here. Boring. Shall we go?”
“You can’t win with a stubborn woman.” Both Ichigo and Chelsea hissed to Kyle. “Okay, okay you win.”
“You go with them, VP.” Chelsea gasped when Charles said it. “I have the secretary here.” He said tapping Kyle’s back. “You’re coming with me, right?” He asked like he was threatening, Kyle immediately nodded.
Then he looked at me and flashed the most wonderful smile. Warmth radiated in me, and from that moment, all the gloom I was feeling faded. “I’ll see you later.”
Both Chelsea and Ichigo teased their elbows to me.
“What happened, Sam? You look like death warmed up.” Ichigo whispered as we walk our way out of the building.
I could tell her everything that happened but, as I said it was not a big deal. Besides, I already told Chelsea that it was entirely my fault.
“So, what happened between you and Lester? Do you like him? –I think so, anybody can actually tell. ”
“I thought he is the kind of guy who is all brawn and no brain. Am I really that easy to read?”
I lifted both my shoulders and let it fall.
The three of us stepped into the car. Then another black coupe dashed to the front which the driver followed.
“Tasuki looks like he’s in a good mood.” Chelsea said delightedly.
“Really? I can’t tell.”
“I actually didn’t know how to face him when you called his name. I never thought he is that ‘Tasuki’ Tasuki. I didn’t even know he is a student here. I thought he’s a college student or someone in his twenties.” I said, catching the driver’s glimpse. Ichigo burst into laughter.
“What’s he doing these days? He looks very tired with all bags under his eyes. He didn’t even shave.”
“I think he likes you.” I caught the driver’s eyes again. Odd and a little creepy.
“What? Me?” The corners of Ichigo’s mouth spread further. “I wish! I’ve known him for a long time and I actually liked him since the beginning… but I gave up already. He just won’t see me that way. He thinks of me as his sister. There’s a world of difference between us. For an eighteen, he’s very far. I mean, in his eyes I’m still a kid.”
“Eighteen and he thinks you’re a kid? Is he a third year--?”
“No, second year. Well… Charles is nineteen and a second year. We’re the youngest here.” She winked.
“Uh, okay…? Why does age matter here?” Chelsea’s voice rose ever so slightly at the end.
“Actually, Chels is twenty-two--”
“No, I’m not! I’m seventeen!”
I guessed this was how girls talk to each other. Talking about boys when they were not around. Helen and I were the only girls in the orphanage back then. If only Helen liked me as her friend…
“I forgot we have a beginner here.”
“And her brother is a police.”
Now that I think about, is it okay for me to drink? I should be grieving right now. Guilt suddenly surged through me. It was not that I forgot about Akito. Is this really what I’m good at?—run away? Helen was right. I am selfish. And it is becoming prominent to a disgusting level.
What is Akira doing right now? Is he okay?
The place was filled with mellow ambiance of blue, violet and yellow rebelled with loud music. Tables were glowing-cobalt like the back bar with amazing numbers of liquor bottles flauntingly displayed and sparkling stemwares hanging fitted overhead.
Tasuki headed straight to the glowing-mauve front bar and waited for the young man serving a couple to see him. We found ourselves a place two tables from the corner right next to a small group of youngsters like us, who were laughing and seemed having fun. In a few, the young man in bowtie came to him. He was smiling and nodding, while Tasuki was talking to him.
I sat between the gals, and Lester made himself comfortable in front of Ichigo.
“I guess, we’re too early?” Chelsea asked.
“The bar clock moves twice as fast from midnight to last call.” Ichigo remarked.
A waiter came flashing a smile, looking at us one face after another. “What can I get for you?”
“What do you like to drink guys?” Lester asked.
“Anything that says we just want to get drunk. Everclear and mountain dew? LIIT?”
Chelsea scrunched her face. “Captain Jack Sparrow will do as an entry point for our new drinker.”
“And Bloody Mary for me, please?” Ichigo added.
I pursed my lips into a thin line, thinking about how much money did I have with me and that drinking should probably be the last thing in my list right now.
“Nice choice.” Lester told Ichigo. “They say the drink you order tells a lot about you.”
“So what does Bloody Mary say about me?” She asked coyly.
“I don’t know I’m not behind the bar. But I do think a woman with that on her hand is sexy.”
“Really… so how many girls have you seen ‘sexy’?”
“Hmm, I don’t know. I only remember my mother.”
“You think your mother is sexy?”
“She’s in her fifties, and yup I still think she does.”
“So you think I’m old and still sexy?” Chelsea and I were struggling not to laugh.
Lester burst into a hearty laugh. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Should I order one too?” Chelsea joked. Ichigo glared at her making a funny face.
Tasuki called Lester and so he went to the stools blocking him. We couldn’t hear them talking, but they were smiling and laughing. The man in the bar placed a glass with funny bulbous bottom part on the table and poured a faint clear green liquid, after that he put a spoon with slits on top of the glass. Lester took something from the bowl next to it and placed it on the spoon. A brown cube (Sugar, maybe?). Finally, the man slowly poured water from a dripping cold pitcher over the sugar. The liquid in glass slowly turned cloudy and forming a distinct line between the clouding and a vivid line of clear and intensely green liquid on top. It was fun to watch. Lester stirred it lightly with the spoon and happily pulled the glass to his lips, tasting and feeling it sip by sip. It felt like I tasted it myself—that I saw green fairies dusting their wonders in front of me.
The order came. Ichigo opened the bottles, placed ices in a glass, and poured the liquids.
“Here. Have a taste.”
I pulled the glass to my mouth like how Lester did. I snorted the sharp aroma that went straight to my brain; I instinctively asked myself, Can I really drink this? Ichigo must’ve heard the unvoiced qualifier and nodded yes. As soon as the cold tangy liquid touched my tongue and reached my gorge, I choked and almost spewed. I was making the same face whenever I eat Sour Patch, except that it was not sour. “Bah--Oh God! What is that?”
She giggled. “Four to five parts Captain Morgan, Four-five parts of JD and one part coke—as it should be.”
“I’m not drinking that!” I said holding my breath, grabbing a Honey Rum Spicy Chicken Wing and took a huge bite. “God! I forgot that’s spicy! I need water—“
“Shut it! Drink that or I’ll shove that bottle into your throat!” Ichigo threatened.
I looked at Chelsea with the save-me face, but she just laughed and made herself a drink. I have to go now. Akira must be worried sick right now… oh right; he wasn’t even talking to me. What is he doing right now? I need to go home.
The boys came back. Tasuki sat in front of me. He slid an open can to me and stuck a spoon in it.
“That’s caramelized milk, Sammy. It’s good with Captain Jack, go try it.” Chelsea winked. I took the can and offered her, but she shook her head, “I don’t like sweets, neither Ichigo. Do you?” I nodded. “I think Tasuki gave it to you specifically.” She whispered.
I looked at Tasuki to thank him, but he was busy listening to Lester without turning a hair. He was expressionless.
“Do you drink Martini?” Ichigo asked Lester.
“That’s a ‘Bond’ thing, right?” Lester laughed as if the green thing he drank earlier had no effect at all. “No. I’m actually beer-lover.”
“Well… they say, ‘liquor before beer, you're in the clear. Beer before liquor, you'll never be sicker.’”
“It’s not true… but yeah, I do appreciate beer as last.”
“Beer and sake. And spicy chicken.” Chelsea noted. Lester snapped his fingers agreeing. “But, calories!”
Every time they lifted their glasses for a toast, I was forced to drink. I thought it was always a requisite. After my third, no—fourth big gulps, I started feeling buzzed. With every burning sensation lining my gut and strong aftertaste, I reflexively dug the caramel to my mouth. It was helping, but it didn’t stop my throat from tightening with repulsion and my eyes from squinting. With few more gulps, I didn’t realize the place was full. Music had become louder. Conversations got louder too. My head was throbbing.
Chelsea and Ichigo were dancing and crooning from their chairs. And my several trips to the toilet were annoying me. My movements somehow slowed.
Tasuki stood up and numerous eyes followed him.
“Where are you going?” Ichigo asked keeping up with the loud music and loud jibber jabbers of people. Tasuki pulled out a cigarette and went somewhere. With him and Lester gone, the wolves started asking Chelsea and Ichigo if they could buy them drinks or get their digits. Where is Lester?
“Oh, I think that guy is cute.”
“You’re slurring.” I said.
“You too. A lot.”
“I’m not.” I chided.
“You’re not speaking in English.”
I was rocking like a boat. I couldn’t see people’s faces clearly. My eyes were crossing. Chelsea asked the waiter to take the empty bottles and ordered something else. It was then that I discovered my glass had a different liquid in it. It was clear and had leaves and lime in it. It was kinda minty. I lost my taste buds, but the funny aftertaste was still there. Just how many drinks did I have? The waiter took a number of empty small glasses and a plate with untouched limes. My eyes grew, Just when did they order that?
A laugh jolted me back to yet another skittish and erratic consciousness. I just wanted to go somewhere and sleep.
“Are you okay?” Charles’ face popped out.
“Yeah. Are you?” Wait-- what did I just say? Am I really talking to Charles?
I noticed they shifted seats. Charles was sitting next to me. Chelsea and Kyle seemed like they were fighting. Ichigo and Lester were on a quiet conversation. Is that a rose napkin?! These two just met each other and now they were on that level already?
He laughed. “We came late--”
“—Kyle and I had a couple of drinks on the way here. Our seniors are celebrating too. It’s a shame to reject their invitations, and I think our VP is not happy about it--”
“Yeah.” The hell with ‘yeah’, but I thought the alcohol was actually helping boost my confidence. It warded off any embarrassment.
“Hey, are you really okay?” I nodded. “Just how many glasses did you have?”
“I don’t know. Four, five--?”
“I doubt that.”
“Negroni on the rocks” Chimed the waiter. Kyle raised his hand and took it. “Whiskey, neat and a can of juice.” Charles thanked and tipped him.
“I’m just drinking whatever’s in front of me. I was drinking half the glass, and then in just a few it’s full again.” I admitted.
“Seriously?” I nodded like a child. “You’re funny!” He tittered and took a heavenly sip on his iceless glass. He leaned closer as I craned my neck to hear what he was saying. “Did I tell you already how beautiful you are tonight?”
Did I hear that correctly? Damn the loud music, I must be hearing things. “Do I have anything to light?”
“What?” He jounced.
“You said ‘do I have anything to light?’”
He snickered then a serious face. “Okay I’m taking this.”
He took the small cup that was sitting in front of me. I thought I have seen a small cup like that one before—where was it again? He lifted the cup with both hands on the base part and allowed Chelsea to fill it for him. Oh yeah… Uncle Natsume. He called that uh… O… Ochoko? He also took the mug --beer, maybe? Sake and beer, right? I think Chelsea said that before.
“Hey that’s mine.” I rebuked.
“I’m drinking yours.” He wiped the mouth of the pineapple juice, opened and streamed it into a glass. “Drink this.” He beamed. “I said, you look beautiful tonight. You are.”
“Way to go, Pres!” Chelsea extolled.
I thought I heard it correctly this time. Maybe because I had too much already, that I took his words not so seriously. But it didn’t stop me from smiling like a goon and that I was actually being obvious about it! I hoped he was not drunk.
“Sam, come with me.” Chelsea pulled me up and we zigzagged towards the comfort room. “Why are we gliding?”
It was crowded with girls retouching their make-ups and lines waiting for an empty cubicle. So I waited on the narrow hallway outside and stared on the spinning floor. Dark light was making it shoddier. I watched the people near their tables bounce their heads and swing their bodies to the loud and lively music. They were like pilchards flapping for water. I closed my eyes bouncing back and forth. I opened and two men drew near.
“Hi, are you new here? I’ve never seen you before.” The guy in dark polo said.
“What’s your name?” The other in light polo asked.
“Here,” the guy in dark extended his hand with a glass of liquid. “This is for you.”
I tried to reach it, but another guy swiftly placed himself in the middle. He stretched his arm to the wall, blocking the two men. I struggled to look up and saw two faces of Tasuki right above me.
“Oh your boyfriend?”
“Come on, let’s go.”
Then they were gone. Tasuki took the can of juice, which I completely had no idea was actually in my hand the whole time, and drank it. He handed it back emptied. We were on a stare down and no one was blinking an eye. His chameleon eyes reflected blue-violet. I found myself close enough to touch him. Teary, I shut my eyes and lost the battle. When I opened it, he was gone.
Ichigo finally came out. She scoffed and rubbed lightly the edges of my eyes. “Is the make-up still intact?”
“Yes. You’re still a ‘woman’.” We cackled like geese.
When we came back, they were laughing so much. Kyle was the clown.
Kyle stood up and made a funny stunt. “--He was like, ‘what the fuck?’” He sat down. “People were twisting on their seats at my ridiculous oversimplification. He just didn’t get it.”
“What about you Sam?” Chelsea wobbly pointed me.
“W-what about me?” I stuttered.
“Why don’t you tell us about yourself? I mean, what’s inside ‘Sammy’s Mystery Bubble’?”
“Anything to talk about? Hmm, like middle school?”
Middle school? Yeah, middle school. God, what about middle school? I thought hard. Nothing. Not because I was intoxicated, but why can’t I remember anything? It was like there was a pass-over between my memories of the orphanage and the present.
I must not put my cards on the table. I was afraid I might say something stupid. If I couldn’t control my actions, what more with my words? These people did not know I was an orphan, and had this stupid amnesia, and weird dreams. If these dreams were really my memories, then I should’ve been dead for a long time, but here I was. I don’t even know why I am here. In front of them. And in this world. I should carry on with my false pretences and lead them up a garden path. Make them hear what they want and what is obvious.
“Right. Uh… uhmm… I’ve always been a loner. I mean I’m not good at socializing. Just home, school, home. I never really cared about hanging out or play games... I’m… uh--” I stammered.
“You have your own world.”
“Yeah… Ha-ha, with my dad and my brother always not at home… I spent almost entirely my life uh…alone--”
“Speak in English!” Chelsea yowled.
“What do you do when you’re alone?”
Running away from my past. Hiding myself, covering my ears from the voices I hear. Writing something in my journal. My journal?! Oh yeah, Dr. Khan gave me this thick notebook. It was like a diary. I wrote every detail of my life as Sam Mizuki there… Why did I stop writing? I gave it back to her, why did I do that?
“Y-yeah. Sleep, watch TV. Anything you do when you’re alone.”
“That’s why you isolate yourself.”
“There’s a huge difference between you guys and me. I’m sorry for being born without a silverspoon in my mouth.”
“Ooh! Such a pessimist!”
“That’s stereotyping. It’s like saying we only buy everything expensive and living high off the hog. That we live in an ivory tower… Truth is, we’re all pikers and skinflints. We also experience the seamy sides of life. The difference is, you know how to enjoy the deep, and you’ve been there, so you know what’s the feeling down there. While us…” He fumbled for the word. “Ichigo what do you call that again? Charm--?
“What the—Poise?” She sniggered covering her mouth. Lester and Chelsea were shaking their heads.
“Yes, poise! We go down with poise. We’re actors; we know how to keep up appearances. But we don’t acknowledge the Murphy’s Law. We avoid errors because we are afraid. Down there is the end of us. You know… living is like drinking.—“
“Get outta here!”
“--It’s not about the brand and how expensive it is, it’s about the alcohol. That’s why people drink. It breaks all the barriers. It’s about companionship and enjoyment.” He stood up and offered a toast. “Let’s just get drunk, people!” Tables near us and some people who heard him said, “Yeah!” and “Woo-hoo!” in unison.
“He’s always like that when he’s drunk.” Ichigo said.
I looked at Charles and stared at him for a while. He was laughing genuinely. The familiar fire suddenly sparked and burned like wildfire inside me. He cocked his head and accidentally caught me drooling. The wide bright smile on his face faltered, and suddenly we were eye to eye. It seemed like the loud music stopped. Out of the blue, it was all quiet and all I heard was… “Come with me.”
The green fairies must still be working their magic for me.