Vancouver. March 25, 2019. Monday.
The plane ride aggravated Dylan’s flu. She threw up, and was in stinging chills, coupled with shortness of breath.
It is past 2 o’clock in the morning when we swoop out of the airport and take a cab to the hospital — where dad has been admitted to — I have notified mom of the predicament, and she meets us by the entrance upon our arrival.
“Oh, sweetheart!” Mom checks on Dylan, then looks at me. “This is a severe flu!”
“Oh, mom!” I hug her, almost in tears. “I’m about to explode! I can’t even think anymore!”
She hands me her car keys. “Here. Drop all your stuff into my trunk. It’s just parked at the east end of the lot. I’m taking Dylan inside.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hansel,” Dylan mumbles, smiling.
“Oh, no worries, sweetheart,” mom replies, caressing Dylan’s face. “You’ll be fine now.”
And I stand there, surrounded by our belongings, feeling the floating tears of enormous love. My loving mother, caring for my one and only LUSH — with all her accepting and genuine heart.
I AM THE MOST BLESSED HUMAN ALIVE!!!
Dylan is treated in a private room nearby dad’s. Both of them are asleep now. Due to restrictions on visiting hours, mom and I drive away to a 24-hour diner.
We sit in a booth, and a waitress flounces over to take our order. Her dumbstruck reaction as she lays her bowled eyes on me — well — pleases my mother — with an unassuming brush. Growing up, I would get engrossing attention and stares everywhere. When I became a fully grown woman, my walnut would get disgusted and displeased by strangers’ subconscious and emotional extolment — especially by those who personally knew me and casual or business encounters. Until I learned how to shatter it up and get it over with!
Though this time around, it has amped on! As my walnut is now attached to All of Lush— and my one and only LUSH! Hopefully, this waitress is still smoothing along in the sane world, uncontaminated and —
“Ace Hansel,” she yelps, taken aback. Uh-oh. And there goes the validation of my walnut epidemic, corrupting the rest of the country.
Mom simpers. “You’ve watched it, too, huh?”
“Excuse me?” I whoop at my mother. “Mom!”
“Oh my god!” the waitress wobbles. “I can’t believe I’m literally meeting you right now! Like, for real! And you’re just — wow! WOW!!!”
“Honey,” mom addresses me, “it’s all over. Your dad got overwhelmed by it, that’s why his blood pressure went berserk.”
“Oh no!” Remorse belts across my throat.
“May we order now, please?” mom says to the waitress.
“Of course!” And she gets her notepad ready, as her dreamy eyes gun through me.
“Just a strawberry pie and a cup of black coffee for me, please,” mom instructs her, then nods at me. “Honey, what are you having?”
“Coffee,” I mutter, stifling a smile at the waitress. “Thank you.”
“Right on!” she cheers and trots away.
“He was too ecstatic about it!” mom says. “It was a whole lot of mix, really. Your All of Lush superb performance, which completely surprised us ‘cause the last time we heard you sing was when you appeared on a talent show in Elementary school. And then — there’s Alex’s revenge. Ugh!” Her face goes dim. “I am not even going to lampoon you as to why you dated her. What’s done is done.”
“I’m sorry, mom,” I quiver. “You’ve no idea how ashamed I am of it all. It’s disgraceful.”
She holds my hand, perusing me with her forbearing eyes, “Honey –”
“Mom –” I mumble, interrupting her, “I’m sorry if I — came out that way — I was just –”
“Bragging about a charming girl whose good heart seized your mother’s instincts into a comforting fix,” she interjects, caressing my face, “was the best thing that you had ever done out of all — your mess.”
I smile. “Isn’t she perfect?”
“An easy breeze,” she agrees. “Her purity and all. Which reflects her parents’ sterling character, too.”
“Oh, mom!” I gush. “Her delightful folks! Their understanding, support, and love! Everything! I can’t even express to you how embarrassed, grateful, and conscience-ridden I am! I want to make it up to them somehow, but they’ve dismissed my offer flat-out! I feel really bad — and –”
“Your dad and I have had a talk about it, too,” she sighs. “It’s heartbreaking. We’ll figure something out, honey. Something special for them. Don’t worry.”
“We should,” I reply. “Oh, god. And I cannot believe Alex would do such vicious things to innocent people. How could she just –”
“Don’t mention her name anymore,” she snaps. “It’s making my blood curdle! Ugh!”
The waitress returns with our order and grins at me. “Are you ever gonna record a song or something? Oh my god! That would be like — the greatest thing ever! I’m just sooo freakin’ in love with — YOU! Like, everything about you! You blow my mind — like — like all the way — and — and –”
“Uh, no,” I interrupt her. “It’s not my thing, really.”
“Her wife wouldn’t be pleased about it,” mom drops a follow-up.
“Oh.” Her disappointing sigh flies into my face. “Well, I’m still a fan, and will always be a fan! Can we take a selfie?”
“I’m sorry,” I politely decline. “I would love to, but not right now. My wife and my dad are both in the hospital, so — I’m just not –”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she says. “Maybe next time when you happen to come by?”
“Sure,” I reply, smiling.
“Okay!” She roosters away, swaying her curvaceous behind — as an enticing token.
“Now you’ve got another problem,” mom warns me.
“What is it?” I sip my coffee.
“The entire straight female population is turning into lesbians,” she says. “Just like your sweet darlings.”
Mom has dropped me off at my apartment — my affluent abode that might draw a lot of pouts in Dylan’s face — with her screaming insecurities as the lawful excuse. I unzip my suitcase and take the wooden box out, then leave a loud smack on it and hide it away under the bed. I set our purses on the office table and take a seat to clear my mind. How will I take down the vicious monster? Nothing moves. As my mind seagulls its anxious run to my one and only LUSH and dad.
My phone drifts through my thought. It wouldn’t hurt to turn it on and check all my incoming messages and calls. I yank it out of my purse and obey my momentum. And –!
IN FULL BLAST!! 108 MESSAGES!! 48 VOICEMAILS!!
I browse through my inbox first — mostly from my sweet darlings — TROUBLED — CRUSHED — BETRAYED – HEARTBROKEN!!! IN A HELTER-SKELTER SPIN!!! ME, HAVING A WIFE!!! AND HOW IN THE NAME OF GOD I ENDED UP IN SHERWOOD PARK ALL OF A SUDDEN!!!
Stop! Okay. So —
— roll out the facts — Here’s what they have known: Tuesday, I’m back in town. Wednesday, I’m back to work. Thursday, meeting with all the store managers. Friday, just another regular TGIF with a bistro sojourn after work — Huh. The way their upsetting hearts sound — Alex is still sulking away from announcing my buh-bye walnut — because she knows that they would all resign at once — ghosting her business out!
I smile at my victory!
However, I would not allow my sweet darlings to ditch the jobs that they love over my walnut pride. That would be way too much walnut worship now.
I so hate Ace Hansel!! ARGH!!
And then — some surprising messages from my relationship stat: the one and only — Stacey Peckinham — the striking photographer!
Desperation crinkles out of her words — To answer all her madcap questions: Yes, I’m out — and married to my All of Lush true love. No, I won’t have coffee with you. Yes, I am super deeply in love. No, don’t you dare turn up on my doorstep. Yes, I was happy you and I broke up. And no, I will never go to your photo exhibit at all.
Why do I feel like she’s going to be another vicious monster? Yes, I know she can be cruel — but not — a vicious monster kind of cruel! What is she up to? Why is she being an erratic sapphic boom now? We never even stayed friends after we went separate ways.
Ah. My relationship signature with her: discreet. Now she wants REDEMPTION!!
Well, sorry, cassava. Baby carrot is already set to spend the sacred seven decades with her potato — the one and only potato — it has captured at the finish line.
CLINCHED AND CLAIMED!!!
I take a shower and settle for a long nap. However, no matter how drained I am, I can’t bring myself to sleep at all. I keep on tossing around — like an acupuncture patient schlepping all the needles out because they either rebel with itches or tickles. I check the time — it’s past 7 o’clock in the morning. Dylan and dad must be up by now given the medical treatment timeline.
I spring out of bed, get dressed, and — I freeze in front of the mirror — Game up! Keeping my hair down — in honor of my principle! No brush. Just gotta keep its wavy style — though in a very messy hip! Makeup? That would be supercilious Ace Hansel now. Abolished! There. Whoah. Just a damp of lipstick should put my confidence on the beam. Argh! — And I frown at myself! No no!
I change my outfit — to red jeans and a white slim fit top — and the fashion self-critic in me still can’t snuff off the actual reflection — The arrogant walnut with its mod swag — and futile nutshell — that would never make a difference in human chronicle — at all!
I end up with a pair of fake prescription glasses that I wear to bust out elite regulars — both males and females — who would still come on to my walnut — regardless! I am cursed! Argh! Seriously! The universe is a lot more meaningful than gloating over Helen of Troy or Adonis, you know?
I grab my purse and my car keys, then head down into the parking lot and pull out of the driveway. Good and healthy breakfast for Dylan and dad along the way — And —
Really! Along the way — not even a minute drive — a familiar figure creeps around by the street, facing the building. What the –?
She recognizes my car and runs towards my direction — fouled up — forcing me to pull over in an instant to spare us both from any impending accident or injury. She is dressed in a jogging suit — her long black hair is pulled up — sweaty — still striking! The last time we ran into each other was at a common friend’s bridal shower party — While I was knuckling under Alex’s romantic spurs – believing that she was — a little human –!
She stands in front of the car, flaming at me — with punch-drunk tears spouting out of her wondrous eyes. I knock my head against the steering wheel and release the deepest breath out of my karmic walnut. Argh!
Okay, so I played Judas in the discreet sapphic relationship course. I broke her heart — many times over — and yet she would still fight for it — Until my love dropped out of sight — That I dropped out of her sight — completely! Leaving her with these thorny words that may have still been sucking into her heart to this day — ‘You’re not my true love wish. I can’t pretend being in love with you anymore’ — And I murdered my own words when Alex obsessively demonstrated her human side to win me over — and adorn me with a snake of fears! What a hypocrite!
I slide out of the car, and she darts towards me. “Just jogging by,” she breathes. “I was hoping you were up there. Since Ace Hansel Vancouver sightings are wandering around everywhere now.”
“Stacey,” I sigh.
“This is so unfair, Ace! And you know it! You know how hard I tried to make everything work for our relationship! You know how much I loved you! You know how many sleepless nights you made me fucking cry the whole time! I was miserable when you left me to rot that I had to leave the country to forget every painful thing that you had done to me! Then all of a sudden, one morning, I woke up to this fucking news? How dare you do this to me? Who is she, huh? Are you gonna make her cry, too, turn her life upside down, and make her stab herself to death? Do you find satisfaction in breaking our hearts? Huh? Fuck you, Ace Hansel! Fuck you!”
“I’ll take the big f-word, and I deserve those harsh words. I’m sorry. But my heart has nothing to explain to you — or to anybody for that matter at all. I’ve got my true love wish now — that you and everybody else would have probably made fun of behind my back the minute after I revealed it to you — But guess what? It’s true. And it came true. And I’m proud of it. I’m proud of having her in my life. I’m proud to tell the world how much she makes my heart sing like that. Since I met her, courage took over me — owned me – in the most unimaginable ways. She makes me do hell-bent and amazing things that I have never done before — that I could have never done myself — She makes me see all the beautiful things even more beautiful — For the first time, I feel all truths gushing out of falling in love — of being in love — of love – And I didn’t look for her — She didn’t look for me either — We only did one crazy thing together — We wished for each other — in one song — in one beautiful song — And that is how our story went — That is how my life changed — So yeah — I’m so sorry for breaking your heart, Stacey — I was naive and –”
“Stop it,” she interrupts me. “The one excruciating thing about you, Ace Hansel — is how transparent you are. That your heart aches so much when you lie, then you run away ‘cause you can’t stand lying anymore. And such trait of yours made me cry — a lot! I suppose you only stuck around with me ‘cause you just wanted to console my pathetic life, though you never really loved me the same way. Did you? Am I right?”
“Yeah.” I look away. How could I be so snooty back then? Oh, god. My past is an embarrassing circuit! I should have been hung to death!
“Well, I can see and feel how much you’d die for this girl,” she says. “And I hate to say it — but I adore your love story –”
“Thanks,” I blush. “She’s perfect!”
“Your heart is fully sunk,” she giggles.
“You have no idea!” I reply.
“And you still haven’t changed. You still have that — power of — all the beautiful things in the world — dumped into one — drug.”
“One drug! Come on now! That’s not nice!”
“Well, you are a drug,” she asserts. “Like, you make people fall in love with you at first glance, and even soften up their crabs. Look what you’ve just done to me. Shutting off my stormy glands in a snap, and now I feel like a total idiot.”
“Stacey,” I gasp, “I didn’t mean –”
“That huge side of you caused me so much agony ‘cause you’d make it so impossible for me to do something crazy or get even or hurt you back — every time you refused to make love or do something — And especially when you dumped me ‘cause you couldn’t pretend any longer. God, Ace. You’re probably an alien from Venus.”
“I’m really sorry for everything.”
“I threw it all out now,” she says. “After 18 months of stewing around!”
“I’m sorry,” I apologize again. “Look, uh, Dylan and dad have both been confined in a hospital –”
“Is that her name?” she asks. “Dylan?”
“Yeah,” I reply.
“Why are they in the hospital? What happened?”
“Dylan’s caught a flu, and dad’s hypertension has punched in, so –”
“Ace,” she pleads, “can we be friends?”
“Y-yeah,” I shrug. “I guess.”
“Great. Can I meet her, though?”
“Um, would you mind if I’d talk to Dylan about it first? I mean, I just don’t want her to be — more — overwhelmed here — you know? She’s been having a hard time — dealing with — things — My things — so –”
“Can I call you?”
“My phone is hacked. I’ll let you know as soon as I get a new one.”
“Stacey, please don’t expect anything from me anymore. You’ve already heard my story.”
“I’m not expecting anything from you, Ace,” she says. “Not anymore. I just want us to be friends. I’ve already heard your heart. It’s enough.”
“Okay.” Though suspicions peck in. But I tortured her heart. Should I compensate it for — a little friendship? Perhaps, I must give her the benefit of the doubt here. There’s a tinkle of sincerity in her voice, anyway. “Okay. I trust your word then — I gotta go –”
“All right,” she sighs. “I’ll just — um — would you please — just give me a ride — home?”
Oh, god. I do not want to be rude to the woman who almost gave up on life because of me. “Uh — sure. Hop in.” I sense another vicious monster coming to life! Get your walnut shield ready, Miss Ace Hansel!
Driving Stacey Peckinham home — a.k.a. the relationship stat that shouldn’t have existed — out of my bleeding conscience — spews me into a dreadful thought that this may be redefined as — cheating — Although it’s just my hyperbolic sentiment — but my plaguing anatomy is too much to bear now as I cannot stand being near another woman, who, I know, would rack Dylan’s heart.
Bummer. The morning traffic is not cooperating with my prayer now. Argh! Move it! I need to escape from another vicious monster here! Please!
“So when did you guys get married?” she asks.
Stacey, please, shut up!
Okay, I have to lie — to make her go away. But no. Wait. Analyze. She knows Alex — who also knows that she’s my ex — who doesn’t know that the latter has just recently become my ex — who is the original monster — who can brainwash just about anybody — anybody like Stacey! Oh, how my logic can still form a complex roundabout! Dear god. “Uh — the bookstore guy pestered me so badly, so — I introduced Dylan as my wife.”
“So you’re not married yet!” she laughs.
“Soon,” I clear my throat. “We’ll get married soon.”
“How soon are we talking about here?”
“We’re still sorting out some stuff. Living arrangements and all.”
“Where did you guys meet?” she interrogates.
“Toronto,” I reply. I HAVE TO SHUT HER UP NOW!!! “How’s your photo exhibit coming along?”
“It’s fine. It’s this coming Wednesday. You and Dylan should come check it out.”
“I don’t know. I’d have to ask Dylan first.”
“Can’t you make your own decision and just tag her along?” she assaults on.
“Stacey,” I lash back, “it doesn’t work that way, okay? That is not how we compromise. I have to make sure she’s positively one hundred percent okay with whatever it is that pops into my life. I’m also the same way with her. If we both think it would hurt the other, then that would be an easy no. Her opinion is the most valued to me. My opinion is her top priority, too. We talk it out and look for the most rational conclusion. That’s how we run.”
“I can’t believe you’ve suddenly blossomed into one professional lesbian relationship goddess! Three years of being with you, and you wouldn’t even give a shit about our relationship, my opinions — You’d just let me do and say anything — and you’d just go get yourself busy with work. It’s ridiculous.”
“Stacey, would you please rewind my love story in your head?”
“I GET IT!!” she raises her voice — on the warpath!
“There is no reason for you to act this way at all,” I exclaim. “I’m sorry I hurt you so badly, and I deserve all the contempt. But I don’t want to be your consoling perk anymore — just to make up for it.” We drive on. Whew! Come on come on come on! One more kilometer, and I can breathe.
“If you hadn’t met her, would you still consider us getting back together?”
“I was good to you, Ace!”
“But I wasn’t really in love.”
“Then why the hell did you even stay with me for?”
“Because I thought you could teach me how to fall in love with you more to keep me around.”
“What made you fall in love with me to begin with?”
“Your photo subjects. The happiest and kindest faces.”
“You fell in love with me because of that?”
“That’s hard to pull. They make you fall in love with life — and trust the beauty found in the universe.”
“That’s it? Nothing about ME at all?”
“That’s a huge part of you that you should be proud of.”
“I’m not even gonna ask how you fell in love with Dylan,” she murmurs.
“Oh, Stacey,” I gasp, smiling. “All the gravitational energies harassed everything inside of me the second I saw her for the first time.”
“I don’t wanna listen to that!” She looks out the window.
“That was — unkind of me,” I gulp. “I’m sorry.”
“So are you guys staying in Vancouver for good or what?”
“Toronto. She lives in Toronto, so –”
“You’re moving your whole life to Toronto? You’re out of your mind!”
“I wanna get away from everything, too!”
“You wanna get away from me!”
“Stacey, please, leave yourself out of it.”
“Then the least that you could do for me is show up at my photo exhibit,” she insists. “With her!”
“I have to talk to Dylan about it first,” I reply, and we pull over in front of her apartment building. Thank god! But — oops!
“No, Ace,” she protests, “you have to grace my photo exhibit whether she likes it or not. After all the pain that you caused me all through this time, and you can’t even grant me a simple favor?”
“You’re basically asking me to dive back into your consoling perk here,” I assess.
“I’m basically asking you for a truce!”
“Which could compromise Dylan’s feelings.”
“It wouldn’t compromise her feelings if she feels secure and confident about how much you love her!” she reasons.
Bites! All Dylan’s doubts, fears, and screaming insecurities rampage around my heart, erupting anguish — engulfing me down. “You don’t know her,” I mutter.
“No, I don’t, Ace! But since you and Dylan know so much about love, then what scares the hell out of you two, huh? Why do you forbid yourself from going?”
“Because I don’t want her to see more people tottering around my world, and I certainly don’t want her to experience a thing or two in it! It overwhelms her! It scares her away! I love her with all my heart, and I don’t want her to feel bad about anything! Please respect that!”
She gapes at me — in awe — with a bit of compassion — “Okay. It’s fine.” And she attempts to kiss me —
I push her back right away! NOOO!!! “Respect me, too, Stacey,” I say. “Respect my heart.”
“It was only a goodbye kiss,” she yowls.
I turn on the engines. “I’m sorry. Can’t. Bye.”
She sits still, piercing into the blues. “I’m still in love with you, Ace.”
“I’m not your true love wish, Stacey,” I say. “Your true love is waiting for you out there — somewhere. Just trust your wish.”
She jumps out of the car and SLAMS the door!
It is almost brunch time when I pull into a busy breakfast restaurant lot. I sit in the car for a moment — to reflect — That’s right. Echo it all out — the turgid walnut epidemic — Eeps! The ransacked acumen. The shallow judgment. Bring up the morals! Oops! Where are they? No. Nothing’s going to happen. So stop being such a vain maniac, Ace Hansel. Look at yourself in the rear-view mirror. Go on. Take a look. You’re human. An actual person. With an actual face. With an actual physical body — that — that — ARGH!!!
“I hate you!” I grumble at my reflection. “I just need to pick up breakfast for Dylan and dad.”
It will be fine. Shut up, presumptuous walnut! Let me go!
I grab my purse and lope towards the restaurant. And — oh, god — IT IS PACKED!! What now??
Okay. Stop gnawing at yourself too much, Ace Hansel! You’re fine. Remember, you’re baby carrot. You just need to wear your hair down ‘cause it’s the only thing you’ve got that never lies. That’s it. There’s nothing special about you at all. Nothing! So — breathe — you’d get through this — with delectable breakfast in hand. Hmm.
I step inside, and heads turn to me in a breeze! The heads that have been lining up at the counter — picking their patient nerves — Now the heads motion over my walnut — dribbling in quiet speculations — soliciting information through whispers — I ignore their intense exchanges and pondering yet defeated eyes. I take over the end spot and wait.
The nebby woman lining up before me — turns her head — in graceful SLOW MO! And her face is now staying afloat two inches away from mine —
One of my natural habits is to smile at strangers who bestow me with their kind eyes — no matter how their ardor strokes through me — I just see the kind eyes — And this nebby woman owns such a pair —
I draw a subconscious smile — And —
“ACE HANSEL!!!!” she raves, alerting the busy room!
FREEZE!!! SILENCE!!! UTENSILS CLANK ON THE FLOOR!!! ALL HEADS ARE SUSPENDED TOWARDS THE NEBBY WOMAN’S VOICE!!!
“IT’S ACE HANSEL, Y’ALL!!” a hipster from the line up shouts.
JUMPING MOVEMENTS CRUSH THEIR WAY TO MY DIRECTION!!! The nebby woman SCREAMS!!! Oh, dear god. Who am I? Who am I? Really! Answer me that!
AND THE ABSURD HUBBA-HUBBA OVER MY WALNUT SLAMS INTO AIR!!! CHANTING MY NAME — MY HUMAN NAME!!! I am about to be trampled to death!!
And the walnut cracks its way back into the lot — before the crowd smashes its arrogant shell!!!
I jump into the car and turn on the engines! A throng chases after me! DRIVE!!! Oh, please. I hope I won’t run over some souls’ feet! Please, get away! Spare your lives!
Some are taking videos and snapping away photos with their smartphones — as my walnut struggles to escape! Oh no! I don’t want to hurt anybody! Just get out of the way — please! PLEASE!!!
NO LUCK!! My car is mobbed!! Now THINK!! Something shrewd — yet humanly palpable! THINK, GODDAMMIT!!!
I smile and wave at them — and their FANATICAL SCREAMS SOAR AWAY — to the heavens!! They get busy with their devices now — as they slowly make their way for me –Though they’re still CATERWAULING and throwing FLYING KISSES — At least, I have a chance to disappear on the hubbub!
I drive out of the lot, into the street, disparaging the walnut epidemic in my head! Oh, how am I going to bring brunch to my one and only LUSH and dad now? My life has become a complete turmoil, and it would repulse Dylan a lot more!
No phone! No breakfast! No liberating walnut cracks! Where is this 5-minute fame going? I hope it would only last that long. Now the sweet darlings are going to find out that I have been back. More acts of betrayal. More questions. More helter-skelter spins —
And once the truth apprehends them — THE VICIOUS MONSTER IS GOING DOWN THE DRAIN!!! OH NO!!! They must hate me now! I must do something — UGLY and SUPERHUMAN — to CLEAN UP THE MESS!!
HOW?? I haven’t even unearthed my vicious vein yet!!!
Alex! What is she up to next? Perhaps, plotting a wicked setup — just like what Dylan has hypothesized. But — it would only destroy her business in the most scandalous stabs! So no. Let’s leave it off. I am safe. We are safe. Except for the walnut mania that might cripple my sacred seven decades!
Dear true love wish: Please vaporize Dylan’s doubts, fears, and screaming insecurities. Keep our sacred seven decades safe and sound in the wooden box. That her heart and mind must stay strong — for us! That regardless of what she sees in the external reality of my world must be regarded as meaningless. And that the only thing that matters is — our truth, our bound love, and All of Lush dreams and wishes.
I pull into the hospital lot and hum into the building. Yes, I get the stares, but they stay calm. After all, it is a medical facility. High-strung smiles and hellos are harmless. I am a welcomed walnut in here. I am very HUMAN! It makes me smile.
As I head down to dad’s room, I run into mom in the hallway. “I just went to check on Dylan,” she says. “She has strictly told me — well –”
“She has strictly told you what?” Agitation horses in.
“You can’t see her — yet –” she replies.
“Why can’t I see her now?” I yelp back.
“She doesn’t want to see you — right now — Okay?”
“Why? Is she mad at me?”
“She’s not mad at you, honey. She JUST doesn’t want you to see her right now.”
“I don’t understand what’s going on. I gotta go see dad first, then I’ll barge into her room.”
“Honey, please — Don’t barge. She’s recovering. She’ll be discharged this evening. But you can’t — upset her — just yet.”
“Mom, you’re frightening my brainwaves and my nerves at once here. What is going on?”
“Not telling you,” she snobs away.
“Excuse me?” I snap back. “Since when have you started keeping secrets from me?”
“Just don’t barge into her room. She made me swear to it.”
“She made you swear to it? What is this connivance about, anyway? Sounds like, I’m about to be annihilated.”
“Don’t upset her,” she insists.
“Well, I’m just about to do that now!” I march down to Dylan’s room — instead!
“Honey!” mom calls after me.
“Love yah!” I wave and disappear into Dylan’s room. Oh, my one and only LUSH is startled to see me, then her pout makes its cute appearance. She is sitting up in bed, with a bottle of dextrose attached to her delicate skin — I close the door behind me and sprint closer — “Baby –”
“Don’t!” she rages. “Don’t come near me! Just stay where you are!”
“Hey hey — What are you erupting about now?”
“Please, Ace — It’s not a good time, okay? It’s embarrassing.”
The stubborn walnut waltzes to her side. And — catches a sight of a tiny red pimple crowning on her right cheek. I ignore it and kiss her on the nose. “You don’t want me to see you ‘cause you’ve got a pimple?”
“Yeah,” she mumbles. “It’s so humiliating. I’m tempted to prick it off, but –”
“Don’t. We’ll treat it later.” I sit on the bed, facing her. “I haven’t talked to your doctor yet, but it looks like you’re coping with it good now, though. You’ve got some color.”
“Better now,” she mutters. “I don’t have private health insurance, Ace. I’ve only got Ontario Health Insurance Plan. This whole thing right here is not covered in BC. It’s a private hospital, and I’m in a private room. It must be pretty hefty expensive. How much is the bill now?”
“Dylan, don’t worry about it, all right? I’ll take care of it.”
“No, you can’t just tell me that? I have to know how much it is. I can probably afford it.”
“We’ll find out this evening. Once you’re discharged. But really — you’ve got nothing to worry about –”
“I’m paying for it. And I’d be mad at you if you’d sneak out of my way. You can’t overstep me all the time here.”
“What if the same thing happened to me? What would you do?”
“I’d settle the bill with or without you knowing about it.”
“Exactly my point,” I reply. “And that’s what I’m going to do in this situation!”
“It’s different, Ace,” she yelps. “I still have a lot to prove to you, okay? A LOT! You’ve already proven way too much to me, and you have no idea how hard I run after it every second just to keep up with your pace.”
“Which pace are you talking about? We’re on the same strides. What kind of race are we fighting for here, anyway?”
“My screaming insecurities, all right? I don’t want you spoiling me, like I’m an inadequate nutcase. I don’t want you taking care of EVERYTHING just because you’re in clover and I’m wrapped in a banana leaf. I don’t want you to do marvelous things for me all the time because it makes me feel like — a total loser. Every minute, I think of all the greatest possibilities that I can do for you and offer you, and it hurts me so much knowing that I may not even give you something that your sweet darlings may have already given you. It makes me feel so little — and so undeserving.”
I brawl back my weeps. “Baby — you have just wasted your time distressing over — tangible things and bank accounts — which could never talk back and express their love in any All of Lush forms –” — I kiss her — on the cheek — “ — like that –” — on the side of her lips — “– and that –” — on her nose — “– and that — Then — this –” — I whisper into her ear, “I love you. Very much. Way more than what this crazy world can offer us.” I fondle her hair and hold her hand. “Have your screaming insecurities shut off yet?”
“I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you,” she mumbles. “Like — I gotta dissect my head just to figure out this miracle happening in my life right now.”
“Dylan,” I say, “it’s not a miracle. It’s our All of Lush magic. Or in my case, the pout and the eye-rolling attacks that harassed me first.”
Her soft fingers examine my face — then slumber on my lips. And my lower abdomen cries out for mercy! As its cognizant agony is desperate for its sublime absolution – NOW!!! “I want to kiss you now,” she utters. “But we still have a vicious monster to take down.”
“You know what, you are not going to believe this, but — the vicious monster already knows that she might be going down the drain any minute. And it’s even more troubling and scandalous. Like — a worldwide news headline — troubling and scandalous.”
“Once the sweet darlings find out that I don’t work there anymore, then they might resign all at once –”
“Ghosting her business out.”
Oh, how our minds synchronize! “Exactly!” I exclaim. “Since they can’t stand her — And no matter how many times I’d convince them back then that SHE — was — you know — HUMAN — they would only respond with a sneering ‘huh’ — and — they’ve only been sticking around there — because of me. At least, that’s how my conscious glitters illuminate over this case.”
“That’s like — world war one in luxury clothing brand industry,” she analyzes.
“I am not gonna work for Alex anymore, but I don’t like this idea of my sweet darlings walking out on their jobs that they have loved for years on behalf of my walnut! That’s too much Ace Hansel mania already! I can’t be this arrogant!”
“You’re not arrogant, Ace. Your sweet darlings just love you so much because — you’re YOU! You’re Ace Hansel. You’re drop-dead gorgeous in everything. Like, respect and kindness and all the most wonderful things in the world.”
“You know what I mean! It still makes me arrogant!”
“Okay. Do they know you’re back yet?”
“I think they do now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I walked into a breakfast restaurant to grab stuff for you and dad — and I — I got mobbed.”
“Now there’s our other problem. We might as well just move to the Northern Territories if this keeps on happening.”
“Or New York! Just for a little while. Until it dies out.”
“Do you really think your walnut hasn’t crashed its way down there yet? Your Ace Hansel mania very much defines New York, for crying out loud. They would find out about you first before Toronto goes wicked nuts! So forget it. All of Lush? The heavenly mesmerizing jazzysinging voice? The whole physical splendor? NO!”
“Aw, c’mon, babe. You’re exaggerating it up. They wouldn’t care. Trust me.”
“Are you telling me you’re dumping us both in New York after Vancouver?”
“Maybe.” I tease her with a smack on the side of her lips.
“I’m cramped up big time,” she objects, pouting. “Stop it and get away.”
I laugh. “I’ve gotta bite off that pout pretty soon, babe!”
“I’d attack you first,” she threatens.
“Really!” I giggle. “Have you convinced one bug yet?”
“Ace,” she says, “I’m still a little bit sick. I don’t want you to catch anything.”
“I missed you, and all the gazillion cramps have been killing me, too. But the vicious monster –” DING DING!! The big bell RINGS!!! UH-HUH!!! Here we COME!!! I fetch her with a mischievous look — “We don’t have a vicious monster to take down anymore. We are going to rescue the sweet darlings’ jobs. Which means — WE — can — you know –” I wink and raise my brow — with a baiting smile — “Once you feel better. We’ve gotta pick a very romantic spot first. How does that sound?”
“Ace,” she replies, “I want it to be special and spontaneous. Something that gives us a feeling of a lasting moment. Let’s not plan it. Let’s just make it happen by itself. Would that be okay?”
“This is such the diva side of you.”
“Potato,” I sneer.
“Baby carrot,” she pouts.
“Clinched,” I giggle.
“Claimed!” She wraps her arms around me and rests her lips on my neck.
Dear true love wish: I am very grateful for this beautiful magic!
Dad’s immense recovery sends him to a hysterical laugh, detailing his overpowering curveballs over my instant stardom, and the cocky burst he clobbers out mixed with the vicious monster’s counterblow. Mom and I can’t help but roar our heads off as well while measuring up our worries that his heart would crunch in as a result. “I’m sure I’ve been besieged with emails and calls from our media friends by now,” he blasts. “Ah, it’s hilarious! I can’t watch news anymore! It terrifies me to see my daughter being jostled around by those delirious throngs!”
“Dad,” I say, holding his hand, “I’m really sorry about –”
“Alex?” he yelps, with bettled eyes. “What’s got into your mind when you decided to be with that witch, anyway?”
“Mr. Mason Hansel!” mom reprimands him. “It’s done. She has fully admitted her gaffe. We’re moving on.”
“You better move on good,” he growls at me. “In fact, you better move on GREAT! And I know Dylan is an incredible girl! I have a great feeling about her already as your mother has also fallen in love with her! You better be serious about this, and not do something batty anymore, or –”
“Mr. Mason Hansel!” mom reprimands him — again! “She’s serious. It’s obvious. She’s undeniably in love. She has moved on.”
“Now I’m relieved!” he sighs and plunks back in bed. “And we want to arrange a get-together with Dylan’s parents as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. And — oohhh! That WITCH!!! ALEX!!!”
“Mr. Mason Hansel!” mom reprimands him — one more time! “Your hypertension. Take it easy.”
“Sorry,” he sighs, then throws an imploring look at me. “Can’t you and Dylan spend a few nights at the beach house once I’m discharged?”
“Dad,” I stammer, “– you have — a 15-million-dollar luxury beach house — and Dylan — wouldn’t feel comfortable for sure — Perhaps, once she already gets the hang of — my world — then it would be fine. Just not right now.”
“Oh,” he replies, pondering on it. And as he seeps into his understanding — “Has anybody settled Dylan’s bill yet?”
I signal mom with a nod. “We’re just about to do that now.”
“That’s right,” she perks up.
“On me,” he instructs.
Mom and I strut outside, arm in arm. Once we shut the door behind us — “Dylan would hate me for it!” I groan.
“That dad is paying for the hospital bill?” she replies.
“Yeah. We’ve had a bit of a fuss over it a while ago, and she insists on paying instead.”
“Then drop a white lie. You’re already stubborn enough. Now we’ve got another one?”
“Oh, mom, I don’t know what to do sometimes.”
“She’ll get used to it. C’mon.”
My stomach gnarrs like a thunderstorm after the payment has been processed. “I feel like — my colon is about to dive out of my belly button,” I panic. Argh!
“Would you relax?” mom calms me down. “I’d talk her out of it once a dramatic convulsion bursts out.”
“I just want to shrink everything just so I could fit in to her world,” I sob.
She caresses my chin. “Oh, honey. It’ll be fine. She’ll open her heart to it soon. I promise.”
“She’s just as stubborn as my walnut. She’s a diva potato. My baby carrot is afraid to bob over a lot of times.”
“Well — maybe because — Dylan wants to be — the man — in this.”
“She can’t do that,” I yelp. “Because we’re both wearing the pants — and dresses at the same time!”
“That’s exhausting,” she giggles. “I hope you two can still breathe.”
Dylan and dad jive on at first glance, dishing jolly anecdotes at each other. Mom and I quietly observe their side-splitting exchanges from the corner of the hospital room as if witnessing a father-and-daughter reunion. Oh, my heart! My flying high heart! My world would have been perfect — if only I wasn’t gilded this much — then Dylan would not have crossed paths with her doubts, fears, and screaming insecurities — at all!
Dad will be discharged tomorrow morning. So we muffle my loving folks with hugs and kisses, then exit the room and prance down the hallway.
“Ace,” Dylan confronts me, “be honest. You’ve paid for my hospital bill, haven’t you?”
“Dad insisted,” I confess. “He paid for it.”
She fixes her blustering teary eyes on me. “I’m paying it back!” And she treads out of the building.
I rush after her. “Dylan! Will you please –”
“Do you have any idea how embarrassed I am right now?” she cries out. “Your parents are some of the loveliest and greatest people I have ever met, and I’M TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THEM!!! This is not how my principles work, Ace! NOT MY PRINCIPLE!!!”
“Let’s get in the car,” I reply, latching on to her arm. “I don’t wanna listen to this crap right now.” I lead her into the parking lot, and we slip inside the vehicle. As I turn on the engines, she slugs out a loud wail. “Babe –” I damp a kiss on her temple — “– you’re not taking advantage of them. You’re not taking advantage of me. You’re not taking advantage of anything and anybody. Absolutely not. I promise. That’s just how hearts are supposed to work. If they didn’t fall in love with you instantly, if they didn’t feel your good and pure heart with their strong and sharp instincts, they wouldn’t do it. Trust me, they’d even roast me alive once a single doubt would sear in their minds — So — would you please — be kind enough to accept it? To accept their hearts?”
“They have the most beautiful hearts,” she sobs. “I will never be able to top that at all.”
I drift back and wipe away her tears with my fingers. “A heart competition is only for the ignorant. Because there should only be heart. No competition. And the heart — the good heart always wins. What trails behind is a wonderful memory. Nothing else.”
“Drive!” she plays her first fiddle.
“I’m sorry?” I choke off.
“Just drive us home!” she sounds like a razor sharp.
“Okay,” I submit. We pull out of the lot, into the street.
“How far away is your place?” she asks in a casual tone.
“We’ll get there in approximately 15 minutes,” I reply — still beclouded!
“Is my pimple getting worse, you think?”
“I can’t see it now. And I’m driving. I’ll check on it later. Just don’t touch it.”
“I hate it that it has attacked me in front of your walnut,” she grumbles.
“Come on!” I laugh. “It’s just a little sebum. It’ll go away.”
“I gotta start working on a book now.”
“Can’t wait to read it. What are you gonna write about?”
“I don’t know yet,” she shrugs. “Something.”
“Dylan,” I giggle, “you’ve gotta narrow it down. Is it fiction?”
“Can’t decide yet.”
“Well, what makes your heart jump?”
“You,” she answers right away — as if we’re ordering a pizza delivery. “I’m just letting you know that I’m determined to work on a book. For the first time. And I don’t want to jinx it.”
“Does that mean we can’t talk about it until it’s done?” I lose it!
“That means you have to stay away from me when I’m writing.”
“Can’t I bug you for a nose kiss, at least?”
“Nope. No Ace Hansel enticement hovering around my writing zone — ever!”
“What if my cramps get worse?”
“You’ll have to wait until my head is fused out. Or –”
“I refuse to take care of them alone, thank you very much. So there. Now you know.”
“Then I don’t want you near me,” she insists.
“You’re such a diva,” I murmur.
“I might even cease to exist. Just waving you the red flag here.”
“Oh my god. You’re scaring the hell out of me now.”
“I’ve never been serious about my writing until now, Ace. So I’m sorry if I’m being super diva about it.”
“I’m just excited to read it. And I’ll understand. But I just don’t want you pushing me aside constantly, that’s all.”
“I’ll make sure to take care of the cramps first — before I type away,” she promises. “How’s that?”
“Clinched!” I yelp, grinning.
We step inside the apartment — my world kind of apartment — as my knees vibrate. I lock the door behind us, then drop the car keys and my purse on the office table. Dylan finds a reflective interlude spot by the giant wall painting of Zea Schiavione and Kai Cannonsharing a dance. She immerses herself into it for a moment, then investigates the opulent bachelor’s suite — with her crouching eyes. It aches everything inside of me — that I am almost ashamed of — the human planet!
I dash towards her and hold her hand. “C’mon.” I lead her to the kitchen counter. “It’s our home for a while. If that’s alright with you.”
She gulps and pulls away. “Can I — take a shower — first?”
“Dylan, you don’t have to ask me every time you need to do something. Just feel free to sashay around. It’s your home, too.”
“I never expected for your place to look this – MUCH! It’s — too — heavy for me to take on — now –”
“Stop damaging yourself already. And stop punishing my walnut world. Look, it’s all just stupid things laying around in a shelter. Under a roof. That’s all it is. Beyond that is utterly meaningless. So don’t brew up like you’re calculating yourself with whatever the hell it is that you see around — because you’re my — priceless one!”
“Here you are with the poignant speech again. You’re wounding up my vultures every time you do that. Just like the heart competition whip in the car a while ago. Though I’m still struggling to figure out how to measure my worth — having you — and now — falling in love with your parents’ beautiful hearts — it oppressed me down into my cramps that I badly wanted to kiss you — But I didn’t want our — actual first kiss to ignite right there, so –”
“Oh!” I giggle. “Now I get it! I thought you were up to something that would crush my walnut!” I wrap my arms around her waist and pull her into me. “Oh baby — you have no idea how impatient I have been!”
“I have to –” she says, then clears her throat, “– you know — freshen up first.”
“You’re beautiful,” I whisper, caressing her face.
“Look –” She pulls away and steps back a little. “– just let me shut off one of my screaming insecurities first, then — I’ll go for the attack — Alright?”
I smile and kiss her on the cheek. “Okay. You go and splash around.”
“Where’s the washroom?” she asks.
“In our bedroom.”
“Our bedroom? Walnut, I’m sorry but — this is not going to be — our home –”
“I don’t want you settling for walnut as your term of endearment for me.”
“It’s walnut for a while until I’ve come up with a humanly adorable one.”
“And it’s our home for a while until we’re out of Vancouver,” I snap.
“I’m going to win next time!” She paces into the bedroom, then shuts the door behind her.
“Oh god,” I gasp, feeling my lower abdomen! “I just can’t wait to make love to you now! Goddammit!” And the door swings open, startling me. Her provocative stare — hidden in sensible and innocent swell — elevates the smarting pain more. “What?” I yelp.
“I’ve heard it,” she groans and fades into the washroom.
I shake my head, amused. My one and only LUSH — the cutest and the most beckoning woman I have ever laid eyes on — will come to her senses soon — over my walnut world.
I pour a glass of red wine and sit out in the balcony. As I observe the street, a familiar car pokes into my terrorized Ace Hansel self-doom. It is parked outside of the building — with a disturbing prying intent. Or perhaps, waiting for me to emerge — just like this morning. “Damn it, Stacey!” How am I supposed to revel in my first kiss now when my relationship stat is blocking the way?
I rest my glass on the kitchen counter and speed out of the building, then rev up towards her car and peek through the driver’s seat window. She pulls it down and glares at me. Her eyes are puffed up from lamenting — and battling in wretched straits — desperate to capture me back into her consoling perk gear. “Why are you still doing this?” I scorn her. “You very well know that nothing would ever come out of this anyhow. It’s senseless and a complete waste of your time.”
“I’m gonna keep on terrorizing you like this until you promise me that you’d grace my photo exhibit — WITH OR WITHOUT DYLAN!!” she screams.
“Dylan just got out of the hospital,” I reply. “And I thought all the while you were a receptive woman. Now I’m really — REALLY HAPPY that I broke up with you, and I’m dropping this without a grain of guilt in my heart anymore! And THAT — would be our TRUCE! Goodbye, Stacey!” I split away.
“YOU WILL BE SORRY FOR THIS!!” she shoots back.
I pause and twist around. “BRING IT!!”
“I CERTAINLY WILL!!” Her ill-boding oath skies out of her broken heart fireworks.
I zoom my way back into the apartment building, up into the suite — then SHUT THE DOOR and lean back against it — panting and praying! “Dear god.”
I run for my glass of wine and gulp it down. Now I am more tempted to hop into the shower and attack Dylan for a sultry sway. But we’re not like that. We’re not like that at all. We value the feeling of a lasting moment shared in romance and intimacy. Regardless of how much my lower abdomen kneels down for luck.
I take off my shoes and slip inside the room, then fling into bed and gaze at the ceiling — as I listen to my one and only LUSH’s movements slinging inside the washroom.
“Walnut!” she calls out.
Why does it sound — humanly adorable now? I giggle over the surprising thought. “Yeah!” I answer. “Do you need anything?”
“I forgot to grab my pajamas!” she replies.
“Okay!” I jump off of the bed and snatch a red satin nightshirt from the closet, then knock at the washroom door. Her head surfaces — along with wet hair — wet neck – wet — Goddammit! My walnut is going insane! All the steamy strokes pin into me — electrocuting my every vein! “Here.” I hand the garment to her. “Put it on for now.”
“I’ve never worn these things before,” she protests. “I’d rather –”
“Baby, please –” I plead. “Just for tonight. C’mon. Please?”
“Walnut,” she says, “don’t set it ablaze — just yet — We’re not like that.”
“I know,” I yelp. “We’ll rummage through your suitcase later. I just want — to see you — in this — please?”
She examines the context of my alluring round robin, then throws a heedful sigh. “Okay.” She takes the garment, and I smile. “You’re up to something really nasty here. I can see it in your smile. Like a chintzy sunshine. No no no.” And she closes the door.
“I’ve heard that!”
Ooh. In red satin nightshirt. How my one and only LUSH cajoles the jangled cramps entrapping hexing reveries and biting dreams dancing in baby carrot and potato love story. My lusting eyes rouse the lower abdomen windstorm — tossing my possessed walnut back in bed.
She crawls down beside me and rests her head on my shoulder. “I’m hungry,” she mumbles, then lands her arm across my ill at ease stomach that has been bubbling along with thwarting passion.
“Pizza delivery?” I suggest.
“Sure,” she replies.
“Okay.” As I am about to grab the landline phone from the bedside table —
“Don’t move yet,” she moans.
“Lasting moment,” I whisper.
“Walnut, I’m gonna thrive harder. A lot harder. So I could prove myself to you. Like — giving you a beautiful and comfortable home — or something.”
“We already have a home. Your basement suite. I find it enchanting and perfect for us. Do you like wall paintings and decors, though?”
She looks up at me. “Are you sure about that?”
“Of course!” I unwind my lips on her temple . “Would you want a bigger place instead?”
“I love that place. It has made me dream about a walnut many times. Practically every other night. Then I’d wake up to reality with a cracked heart.”
“How’s the heart in your reality now?”
“Well –” — she glooms — “– not fully — bright and happy — to be honest. ‘Cause — you know –”
“Babe,” I reply, “all your doubts, fears, and screaming insecurities do not have a place in the walnut world at all. The walnut will always bomb off your monkey cart. Just see me. As another heart. Your one and only LUSH. Who will always ask for the dance with you. Would you be kind enough to believe that?”
“Let’s order pizza now,” she yelps, rolling away.
“Okay.” Abashed! I pick up the landline phone and lean in closer. “Anything vegetarian?”
“Yeah,” she sighs, contemplating.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Just make the call now, please.”
“Baby — what’s wrong?”
She grunts into tears. “I don’t know why I deserve you this much!”
“Oh my god — baby –” The probing ache moves me to weep along. “Stop it! I can’t stand seeing you like this! Hey hey — STOP! Dylan –” I maneuver myself on top of her, and she sobs out — As we fluster into each other’s eyes — “Am I smashing you?”
“You’ve just crushed my bladder,” she giggles.
I faint down before her face. “Well — you’ve been crushing my lower abdomen since the first day — I’m getting even –”
“Walnut, I can’t breathe!” she whines.
“Oh. Sorry.” I flip over to her side, and she swaddles on top of me — instead! “Clever!” I laugh.
“Be honest. Vancouver or Toronto?”
“Wherever you are!”
“Coffee or tea?”
“Whatever you like!”
“Pizza or pasta?”
“Whichever you choose!”
“Sweet or spicy?”
“Whatever your taste bud craves!”
“Morning or night?”
“Whenever you feel!”
“Fast or smooth?”
“However you run!”
“You’re a lunatic walnut,” she snaps.
“Excuse me?” I gulp.
“You can’t just base your — EVERYTHING — on my EVERYTHING all the freaking time!”
“Dylan — I want to make it work for both of us.”
She pegs away and lays down next to me. “I know,” she moans. “Me too. But I feel like — you’d rather murder your entire world because of me, and I don’t want you to sacrifice you — over us.”
“I understand your principles,” I say, looking at her melancholic face. “But you’ve gotta take it easy. Because the only thing that matters is we’ve found each other and we’re meant to share the sacred seven decades together. It’s that simple. Nothing amazes me more about life than — being with you. It will always be the finish line. Our finish line. All you gotta do is accept — our beautiful truth.”
“I’ll work on it,” she utters. “I mean, I’ve gotta thrive harder and prove myself to you — first.”
“The finish line is clinched, Dylan,” I proclaim. “What about you? Is it claimed yet?”
She draws her lips to mine — The sweet-tempered tongue licks in as the coveted reply — My jittered spine gushes up — imprisoning her in my arms — while locked in the vehement desire — of nestling inside her skin — The hot-zealous breaths release at once — Gentle moans — The promised language of love — My one and only LUSH — My sacred seven decades — The secret drabbles — The true love wish – Clinched and claimed — by our FIRST KISS!
The heavenly first kiss — one of our lasting moments!
“Vegetarian pizza?” she yelps.
“Okay!” I giggle and steal away a lip smack, then she plays her supple fingers around my neck — down to my chest — to my burrowed stomach — I close my eyes and let out an ardent moan — C’mon c’mon c’mon! Keep going!
“Tease,” she chuckles into my ear.
“How dare you!” ARGH!! “When exactly are we gonna take care of the cramps? I’m dying here!”
“Once all my doubts, fears, and screaming insecurities vanish into thin air!” she declares.
“Well, you better hurry up already!” I exclaim.
“Oh my god, Miss Ace Hansel,” she laughs. “You are such an aggressive puck!”