Chapter One: Home

Despite being nineteen years old, I am still terrified of the dark. I blame it on the horror stories I was told way too often. Despite being of faint heart, my friends had all thought it was funny to scare the crap out of me, and now my Chinchou’s antennae serve as a constant night light through the unrelenting darkness. Without them, I don’t know how I’d survive through the night. Chinchou’s gentle snores coupled with the rocking waves and its calming bioluminescence should’ve put me to sleep hours ago, but I can’t sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning, I will be back in the Johto region and, in the evening, at home. It’s been a little more than a whole year since the last time I went home, right after―

No, I shake my head, trying to rid my mind of the memory before it came. I’m not avoiding anything, I tell myself. I’m just dreading the questions that’ll come, the pity in their eyes, all the memories of― Stop! Stop thinking! I bury my head into my pillow, groaning into it. It’ll be a long night…

✿。.:**:.。✿

The S.S. Aqua docks in Olivine City at 10AM. Sypriana and I don’t leave the ship until a whole hour later because, as always, we slept in. I carry Chinchou in my arms, my Meowstic walking beside me and Sypriana’s Meowstic. The two Meowstic are fraternal twins, mine the female and Sypriana’s the male and older sibling. And after today, who knows when they’ll see each other again―Sypriana and I would be separating at the fork in the road a bit after Ecruteak City, she going to Goldenrod City while I would venture through a few more towns to get back to New Bark Town. My Meowstic had slept in Sypriana’s cabin last night in order to spend as much time with her brother as possible.

If Sypriana notices the bags under my eyes―she most likely did―then she doesn’t point it out on our trek through Olivine. That’s what I like so much about her, she won’t make small talk about things she knows I won’t divulge to her or to anyone for that matter. It was the reason why I left for Sinnoh―everyone kept asking too many questions I wasn’t ready to answer or to even think about.

We make a detour at the MooMoo Farm on Route 39. Their slogan, displayed proudly at their gate, is still the same: “Enjoy Our Fresh and Tasty Milk.” When we enter, the farmer’s young daughters greet me by hopping to either side of me and linking hands, trapping me in their game of Dancing Roselia. I am surprised they remember me. It has been at least five years since I had helped their sick Miltank by feeding it Berries. The farmer’s daughters must be preparing to set out on their own Pokémon journeys now.

By the time the two girls are done with their game, Sypriana has already finished our business here, in her hands two carriers each with 6 bottles. We make our way to Route 38 and sit on the edge of a small ledge and release the rest of our Pokémon from their Poké Balls. There are two extra bottles since our Meowstic split one bottle and my two Vivillon share another. One of the extra bottles goes to Sypriana while she gives me the other, but I only drink half of the MooMoo Milk. I don’t want a queasy stomach today, and so the other half goes to my Chinchou―even if I weren’t lactose intolerant, I would have given Chinchou more of it anyways. Most Chinchou can walk on land without problems, but my Chinchou’s legs are smaller than normal and much weaker. It’s the reason why I carry Chinchou instead of letting her walk besides me. My Chinchou needs as much calcium as she can get, and I’m opposed to most supplements, so it’s a good thing Chinchou loves MooMoo Milk. I wouldn’t know what to do if Chinchou hated milk.

It takes only ten minutes from our rest stop to Ecruteak City. We debate for a while whether to stop by the Kimono Dance Theater to enjoy a show, but in the end, we decide not to in order to reach our destinations before nightfall―at least, that’s the reason we both agreed on. In actuality, it’s more like Sypriana didn’t want me to travel alone at night due to my nyctophobia, and I hadn’t bothered to argue. We leave Ecruteak within fifteen minutes of arriving, and we quickly walk through the grassland of Route 37, but its forestry area is a bit more difficult to maneuver, a few new trees having sprout out in places they weren’t in before and a few of those trees turning out to be Sudowoodo. I’m not surprised when we encounter a few baby Bonsly as well, for this forest seems to have become a nesting ground for the Sudowoodo.

We finally reach the fork in the road, and Sypriana gives me a hug once I put Chinchou down, my Meowstic mimicking Sypriana and hugging her brother. “Don’t dwell on the sad things,” Sypriana tells me. “You’re a part of the Ribbon Syndicate now. That’s a great honor already. And don’t forget you’ve already conquered the gyms of Johto and Kanto. But if you really need someone to talk to, I’m just a phone call away.” The hug lasts longer than I expected it would.

“I’ll be fine,” I assure her, almost promise. My voice almost trembles. I’m not good at saying good-byes. “I promise I’ll call if I need to.”

She is probably waiting for that because she lets go of me then. We say our goodbyes, our Meowstic finally releasing each other from their hug. It breaks my heart that they’ll be apart, but our Meowstic have refused to leave their respective trainers, a choice I am grateful for. I don’t know how I’d react if Meowstic leaves me. She is the first Pokémon I received since―

Stop, stop, stop! I blink back the tears I didn’t know are forming and quickly turn towards my path east before Sypriana could see the state I’m in. She wouldn’t let me leave if she had seen me cry.

It is only out of her range of sight that I let Chinchou walk beside me and Meowstic. I’m not exactly excited to go home, and if slowing my pace for Chinchou to keep up with me keeps me away from home then, by all means, I will walk at my disabled Chinchou’s pace.

✿。.:**:.。✿

I reach New Bark Town before the sun sets, just when the sky turns from blue to shades of orange and purple. Meowstic is on my shoulder, and I pick up Chinchou, hiding my face as much as possible before power walking towards my parents’ house. I don’t want to risk anyone recognizing me and stopping me, and there’s a high chance of that happening because the house is on the opposite side of town away from the entrance by the river that makes up Route 27. Thankfully, I only pass one or two people out on a stroll, and they don’t bother to look up from their phones. It’s when I reach the house about to knock on the door when I lose my nerve. My fist ready to knock stays still in the air, but I can’t force it to move.

As if she senses my hesitation, my mother opens the door then. The sight of someone at the door spooks her at first, but when she realizes it’s her eldest daughter returned home, she embraces me―it’s awkward at first as she maneuvers around Chinchou, but once she finds a position comfortable for all three of us, her hug is warm and soothing. “You’re just in time for dinner, Zoey,” she says.

It’s like nothing has changed.

“Welcome home.”

✿。.:**:.。✿

Dinner goes as always. The only one missing is Ember who’s two years into her Pokémon journey and who’ll drop by tomorrow. Amelia and Audrina, sitting on my right and left, are talking animatedly about how the year has gone for them. They had gone to Kalos a couple of months after I had left and had returned only a couple of weeks ago. Amelia’s Pumpkaboo and Audrina’s Litwick are evidence of their trip, the newest additions to their Pokémon parties. They eat their dinner with the rest of our family’s Pokémon. They are not the only new faces. There’s my two Vivillon, Meowstic, and Chinchou. There’s also my mother’s Lilligant who she had obtained on her trip last month when she visited family in Unova, the Lilligant’s four baby Petilil crowding around their mother. And finally, there’s this weird new one my father found on his trip with Professor Elm two months ago. Father says its name is Mimikyu, and frankly that weird ghost puts me off. It’s bad enough that each of my family members have Pikachu-related Pokémon―Ember has a Pichu, Amelia and Audrina have a Plusle and Minum respectively, my father a Raichu, and my mother an actual Pikachu―but to think that my father actually caught a Pokémon wearing a badly drawn Pikachu disguise with me in mind… I have no idea what he expected to happen. Had he thought I would fall in love with his new discovery despite the fact that I detest all Pikachu ever since one had hit a Poke Ball right back at my face when I was five? And besides, this Mimikyu is not starting out on the right foot, staring at me without break―at least, its Pikachu disguise’s eyes are.

“So, a Chinchou, huh?” my father says once silence fills the room after my sisters finish their stories. “It’s certainly a . . . uh, interesting-looking one, but I didn’t think you’d get another one of those…”

His voice trails off, but I understand what he’s implying. I didn’t think you’d get another one of those after what happened.

My mom understands too because she glares at my father while my eyes are downcast, just watching as my chopsticks poke at my rice. “I didn’t think I’d get one either…” It barely comes out as a whisper, and I look towards Chinchou, my Chinchou with her tiny feet, a bent antenna, and her slightly greenish hue. My Chinchou as she finally tires from standing and sits on the wooden floor. My Chinchou as Meowstic with her blue stubby hands passes her the rest of her Poké Chow. My Chinchou as the Togekiss, Cherrim, and Eevee I left behind here also share their food with her. “But she needs me…” And on cue, Chinchou makes her way over to me and extends her two white fins up. I carry her onto my lap and continue my dinner. The conversation ends.

✿。.:**:.。✿

It’s when I’m alone in my shared room with Ember when it starts to get difficult. Even with all my pictures and earned Gym Badges hidden away, a few stray memories float to the surface of my mind. Togekiss, Cherrim, and Eevee are as understanding as always, Togekiss trying to cheer me up as she flies around the flower petals Cherrim conjures up and Eevee rubbing himself against my hand. “I’m sorry,” I apologize for more than just feeling down. “You three must be having a hard time too.” My eyes shift to Chinchou who slept by my pillow. “And you probably hate me for bringing home a Chinchou. She’s still a baby though, so don’t take it out on her please.”

Eevee jumps off the bed and rushes under it. When he comes back up, a silver locket is in his mouth. I’ve always wondered where the locket had gone, and as I take it from Eevee, it flips open. It’s hard to forget when the picture was taken―it was when I had finally beaten the Elite Four on my third try, the first of my friends to do so―and I smile back at my frozen younger self. Around me in the picture is the Pokémon party I had when I claimed my victory: Togekiss, Cherrim, and Eevee are there, of course; Typhlosion who I had gotten as my starter Pokémon when he was just a little Cyndaquil and . . . my Lanturn. The sight of the last Pokémon brings tears to my eyes.

Eevee worms his head under my head and mews sadly. “Yeah, buddy, I miss her too…” I scratch behind his ears to bring his mood up. “But Chinchou’s not her replacement. No other Pokémon will replace her in my heart.” And I let a tear fall from my eyes, another sliding down my cheek, as I close the silver heart.

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3 CATALYST 【催化劑】

I didn’t have a lot of guy friends growing up. I was an early bloomer, and most guys teased me for my boobs, saying behind my back that I must have had plastic surgery because Asian girls don’t have boobs. I didn’t mind—even without all the teasing, at that age, I was content with the friends I had. (And my parents probably wouldn’t have liked it if I had a male friend.)

My first guy friend . . . I met him in middle school. I call him Oppa now, the Korean word for older brother, but our friendship didn’t start out so well. I met him in Problem Solving class in the seventh grade. He was a real jerk back then and always had a glare on his face, like most guys I remembered. He was really mean to me, and he probably hated me because I had a crush on his so much nicer best friend (my current boyfriend, a story for another time) and was always annoying them—in his eyes, I was probably a brat.

He was almost a bully to me, and I antagonized him. No one really knows how we went from wanting to murder each other to becoming almost siblings. The only thing they know was that he made me cry once. Everyone assumes that I cried because he had been meaner than he normally had, but actually, I cried because I saw him almost die.

Near the town we live in, there are a set of abandoned factories. The roads to and around those factories are wide and smooth, perfect for racing. That’s where our town’s freshly minted drivers go to show off their skills, mostly the juvenile testosterones. Needless to say, being two years older, Oppa was one of them. He was always boasting about winning these races, only losing once or twice, and, of course, I told him to his face that I didn’t believe him. So, to prove me wrong, he invited me to spectate. One problem, the race would be around nine at night. He wouldn’t let me back out, and so that day, he came to the house and, for the first time ever, I saw him be a gentleman. Because Korean and Chinese cultures were similar, he knew how to act around my parents and knew what to say to them. He got them to believe I was playing volleyball with him and a bunch of our friends at the park and, to this day, my parents still have no inkling of where I actually went.

It was pretty cool, actually. It was the first time I went out past curfew and the first time I lied to my parents about where I was actually going—it was kind of liberating. I felt free, that’s the closest I can come to describing it. And then, watching as the drivers raced made my adrenaline rush. I was having such a great time that I ignored all the other girls’ jabs at me—they were saying something along the lines of “the goody-two-shoes Asian ran away from home” or something like that. I didn’t care. I sat with my crush (obviously) and cheered for Oppa. He really was good, he was really good. If the other guy was going 80, he was going 100. It was so scary watching, but it was so much fun to watch his car overtake the other and to see him maneuver even the curves with a grace that he never had at school.

It was the fourth or fifth race of his that night when it happened. The other guy must have been a sore loser because he challenged Oppa again to another race and, this time, when Oppa was about to overtake him, the other guy shoved Oppa’s car to the side. Oppa missed the curve in the road, and his car flew off the road. His best friend and I were the only ones to run to the wreckage, everyone else too stunned to move. I didn’t even know I was crying until Oppa made his way out of the wreck with only a few scratches and he laughed at me for being a crybaby. At that point, I didn’t care if he had been mean to me for the whole school year. I was just so relieved he was alive—after I had hit him a few times for his insensitive joke, I hugged him. That’s really when the friendship began, I think.

When I look back, my friendship with Oppa is probably one of the most important ones I have ever made. He’s taught me so many things, and the most important thing: I can be a wild American teen and still be the good girl Asian culture dictates me to be.

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1. Aftermath

The revolution has ended. The Azmi have lost. It is the Evakians who have won the battle. It wasn’t even a battle, young Soolyi thinks, just a storming of the palace and a massacre of those who wouldn’t support General Vikan Srisai taking over. King Vikan, she mentally corrects herself. It’ll take some time to get used to the switch of power and her future uncle’s new title. For now, Soolyi puts on her black shawl and checks herself once more in the mirror. She wears no makeup, and she wants to be sure the change does not have such a drastic effect on her face.

“Are you sure you want to go watch?” her fiancé asks once again. “It will be brutal.”

“I will go, Karik,” she tells him, fixing her hair one last time. “Out of respect because, under him, our people enjoyed more freedom and less discrimination.” She finally faces away from her reflection and faces her future husband. “And out of loyalty to Choenyi. I will not let her go through this alone.” Her decision is final, and Karik with all his military accomplishments dare not defy her while she’s like this.

The dethroned king’s heavily guarded makeshift quarters are in front of the chamber hall, a ten-minute walk from Karik’s guest villa. There’s a commotion in front of it. Soolyi does not need to see the young lady’s face to tell who is arguing with the guards. Her crown with its four dangling silver threads of diamond-dewed metallic flowers gives away her identity.

“Our apologies, Grand Queen Dowager,” one guard says while the other urged her to return to her pavilion. “But our orders are to keep everyone out until the execution. Please, return to your chambers, Your Highness.”

“Grand Queen Dowager?” eighteen-year-old Choenyi scoffs, her eyes watery but her voice unrelenting. “Does my crown not tell you? His Majesty may have lost his crown yesterday, but under Azmi tradition and even the Evakian customs, General Srisai is not king until the Azmi line of succession has ended! And until His Majesty’s head rolls on the ground and the Crown Princess’s body turns cold, I am Queen Dowager! And even if I were Grand Queen Dowager, I am still the most powerful person in all of Karnuk! My word is law, so step aside and let me through or have you Azmi men turned traitor to Evakian cause?”

Soolyi throws a glance at her fiancé, and Karik goes to diffuse the situation. “I’ll take responsibility,” he says to the guards. “I am Karik Csejte, Evakian lieutenant of the first order. I speak on behalf of my uncle General Vikan Srisai. Let the Queen Dowager through. This will be the last time she’ll be able to see her brother-in-law. We Evakians are not heartless. We will grant this mercy. Now, open the doors.”

The guards, though hesitant, give the lieutenant a curt nod and unlock the doors for the young dowager. Choenyi doesn’t acknowledge either Karik or Soolyi and hurries into the building. Her handmaiden, however, glowers at the two, her sneer lingering on Soolyi, before following after her mistress.

“Would you look at that?” Karik crosses his arms. “No thank you?”

Soolyi almost rolls her eyes, but the solemnity of the situation stops her. “Can you blame her? We did betray her, after all. You, one of her bodyguards, and I, her childhood companion. And then there’s Severin, her love, the son of the man who has usurped the throne. Choenyi will not look kindly to us for a long time. We’d best get used to it.”

Love & Pain 2

What more can you do if he doesn’t love you back?

You’ve done all that you could. Be his best friend, always be there for him, always listen to him whenever he needed someone, worry for him, but it’s all not enough.

You can’t end this because then you’d be giving up, and giving up means you give up on the idea that he’ll love you back. All of your time and energy would have been for nothing. You can’t end this because you’ve invested too much, because your heart won’t let you.

And you can’t give up because, regardless of everything that’s happened, you just fall more in love with him.

Love Hurts

Love hurts. Movies, shows, music, they all paint love as this great magic, this great wondrous thing that makes the universe align, but people who believe that are really naïve.

Love hurts. Your heart will break many times over, and just when you think you’re safe, you’ll cry and you’ll be hurt again.

Love hurts. And when it doesn’t then it’s not real. To love someone is to care about them, to care about their opinions, and to care about what they think of you. It’s to open up your heart and soul to them.

Love hurts because it makes you vulnerable. Love makes you weak and susceptible to pain.

Love hurts, but it’s all worth it.

Love & Pain

It’s useless to love someone who doesn’t love you back.
You can win them over, but they’ll never love you like you love them.

So who will be there to pick up the pieces of your heart when it breaks?
You can only count on yourself to keep strong and to keep fighting because there will always be new people to love.

But your heart will feel heavy because there’s only one him.
And you’ll always regret not being enough for him.

written June 16th, 2016

2 MIRROR, MIRROR 【鏡子,鏡子】

Growing up, there were not many other Asian families in the town I lived in, and so I easily stood out anytime I walked out of the house. All the teachers knew me because I was one of five Chinese students in the elementary school I went to, and all the other students knew my name. It was weird, to say the least, when a person I didn’t know would come up to me and greet me by my name. It took forever for my five-year-old brain to realize that I hadn’t forgotten people I met and that these were strangers coming up to me.

One huge disadvantage to having so few Chinese families in town was that other people could not distinguish us apart from each other. My friend and I were a prime example of this. Every time in class, whenever our teachers would call on either one of us, it was as if they were trying to identify a twin in a pair of identical ones. It didn’t really matter to me whenever our names were switched—in fact, I got used to it after some time—but it did take a toll on our friendship.

You see, this friend (I’ll refer to her as HK from now on) bears quite a resemblance to me, not only in appearance but in traits too. Chubby and short but also stubborn and smart. We were always friendly to each other, but we could only tolerate each other’s existence for a given amount of time, due to our obvious differences. We were similar, yes, but whenever we had our differences, those differences were the complete opposite of each other. She focused more on herself in conversation and in her actions while I spent more time on altruistic goals, helping my sisters or enjoying time with my friends. She was pure Chinese while I was an eighth Malay, a fact she pointed out whenever she criticized my Mandarin.

Our tolerance only further shortened when even our parents began comparing us. Love-hate, that’s what her and my relationship is like, even to this day. We’re both trying to outdo each other, never letting the other win at anything, but we both lend a listening ear whenever the other needs comfort. Once the hour’s up, though, we both can’t stand each other.

All that talk we’re given as kids to be kind to one another, that talk was overridden by a competiveness I only feel around her. And in a conversation I had with her, HK also admitted to the same fault. Though we feel guilty about it, we can’t help it. Whether it’s the drilled-in “Be better than everyone else” speech from our parents or just an innate desire to stand out and to not be just another Chinese girl, we both just can’t move on past this childish instinct.

Despite it all, I still call her my twin, my estranged twin and a mirror of things I strive to be and a mirror of things I strive not to be. She’s the standard I hold myself to, and sometimes I wonder just how many people compare us and just how many times they do. Do they see two Chinese-American girls drowning in a culture our parents throw on us? Or two faceless girls who don’t belong in their world?

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