A panicked scream filled the air as Yvon tripped over her own skates for the umpteenth time that afternoon. But the scream was soon replaced with laughter by a boy as he skated to a halt beside Yvon who was tending to the newest addition to her collection of bruises.
“Hey, here.” He offered to help her get back on her feet but she refused.
“I don’t wanna do this anymore.” Yvon was sulking.
Rick sat down beside her. “So what do you wanna do instead?”
“Let’s just sit here and enjoy the view.” She grabbed his arm and pointed at the sunset. “Look how pretty the sunset is when it goes into the ocean.”
“Not as pretty as my sunset when it goes into your ocean.” Rick realized it right after he said it. That was not something appropriate to say on a first date.
The perfect first date should be skating followed by some ice cream then, if he’s lucky, maybe a kiss. But Rick had just given up all hope of that last item on his itinerary.
“What did you just say?”
Rick winced. He was hoping that she may not have heard it. No such luck.
“Yvon, I- I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have said pervy stuff like that. Uh, I didn’t mean it. I’m really sorry…”
He fumbled around for the words to make this awkward situation less awkward. Again, no such luck.
“Rick, if you’re gonna yap away like that, you’re not even gonna get a shot at seeing your sunset entering my ocean.”
“I like pervy stuff.” Yvon was admiring the sunset with a flawless smile on her face, looking every bit like the perfect girl- except for what she just said.
Yvon nodded and looked at Rick in the eye. “I’m actually glad and relieved that you brought that topic up on our first date. I would never know how to break it to you otherwise. It’s a part of me and I know it’s a part of you too. And I accept you for who you are. I don’t find you weird or anything.”
Rick was grinning from ear to ear. He really struck the jackpot this time. This girl is a keeper.
“That’s not a good idea, Zane. For one, we don’t have great data on the actual effects of enhanced Luck…”
“Look, can you do it or not? I need this.”
The gene tech sighed in the quiet office and swiveled his chair back to the computer. He was looking at a fairly standard representation of a human genome, red highlights in the mass of blue to indicate genes with likely altered function from human baseline and green to indicate potential areas for change.
“Let’s see, we have some modifiable options at rs2981205, rs730882133, rs423454-”
“Yeah, man, I get it, lots of fancy words. Bottom line it for me?” Zane shifted impatiently in his chair; flipping his phone from hand to hand.
“Based on population-level studies and retrospective analysis of lottery winners, survivors of freak accidents, etc, there’s about 20 genes we could modify in you to try to make you luckier. I’m obligated to point out that we don’t know for sure that these genes actually cause better luck, and frankly the latest research is casting some doubts on the validity-”
“Yeah, yeah, I signed the waiver already, do what you got to do; I have a lot riding on this.”
“Um, you already made the bet? And you want to get lucky now?”
“Not exactly, I don’t really want to explain.”
“Whatever, they’re your genes. Sign this form here, some more standard stuff. Given the specific genes we need to modify, you are looking at 85% chance for significant loss in strength, 90% chance for loss in fine and gross motor skills, 100% for loss in intelligence, 60% chance for loss in overall body aesthetic and symmetry, and 50% chance for loss in short and long term memory.”
Zane, took the tablet, skimming over most of the form. When he had scrolled to the bottom, he pressed his finger on the fingerprint scanner, acknowledging his agreement. He let his shoulders relax afterwards, like a weight had been lifted off.
“Okay then,” he said to himself in a quieter voice,”that’s settled.”
“Not quite, Zane. Given the severity of potential deficits you are required to provide a sperm sample on the chance that you would prefer to have unaltered children in the future. Furthermore, while we strongly suggest implantable birth control for all men and women that undergo elective alteration, per the 2024 SAFEGene act, prior to sexual intercourse with any potentially fertile partners, you both must be screened for possible gene incompatibility.”
“Yeah, everyone knows the rules.”
“OK, here’s your sample cup; I’ll give you some time to provide the sample and I’ll get the CRISPR transfer virus ready.”
Zane rolled up his sleeve, exposing a slightly faded tattoo; a simple heart motif with the name “Evon” on it.
“Just a slight poke, then you’ll be all set. This is your last chance to change your mind…”
“Get it over with.”
The tech injected Zane’s left deltoid with the modified viral delivery system. Over the next 48 hours, the virus, a modified version of the flu, would infect the vast majority of his cells and re-write all of his DNA.
“It’s done. Now, you’ll probably have some soreness, fatigue, and a fever for the next couple days, similar to flu symptoms. This virus isn’t contagious, but to be safe, you need to avoid the very young and the elderly. Take tylenol if the fever or pain get bad. If you have difficulty breathing, pass out, or anything like that, get to a hospital immediately.”
“Got it. Thanks, doc.”
Two months later, Zane’s life, as far as any outsider was concerned, was pretty much unchanged. He’d had to quit his job as a barista; it was a bit too fast paced for him with his new weakness and difficultly remembering simple tasks. He’d found a perfect job, working at one of the few private libraries remaining in Baltimore. He’d only get one or two customers a day and they were usually older; if anything, Ben found himself getting along better with them than people his own age; the elderly clients seemed to talk and move at the pace he was accustomed to these days.
He settled in well to his new life; he was more lonely than he had been, but that suited him well. He had a new companion, in the form of a stray he named Tipsy, that had wandered up to his feet when he was getting back to his apartment one night. She only had three paws and occasionally fell over, but they were fast friends.
All in all, his life was stable, boring; an easy sort of anguish. And every day, as he left the library, sometimes with Tipsy peeking out of his backpack along with a few children’s books; the short ones with the easier words, he would take the 57 bus and transfer to the 23 to get to the long term care facility. There he would take the elevator to the fourth floor, his legs a bit too weak for the stairs, and sit next to Evon, who was perpetually silent except for the occasional hiss and beep of the ventilator, and read to her. Often, he would fall asleep in the chair next to her, dreaming that perhaps tomorrow would be his lucky day, and he would get to talk to her again.
It was the way she sat. It was the way she sank into the chair, heavy with burden, yet sustaining an impossible air of grace. She leaned towards the floor, reached for her backpack and began to rummage for unfinished homework.
It was one in the morning, and she was weary, but this is her life now. Textbooks found, she pulled it out of her bag and placed it on the table, squarely in front of her. But instead of opening it, she placed a hand across the book, and sighed at the man at the opposite side of the table, me.
“What are you studying today?”
I half-pouted and told her I needed to study for my upcoming mid terms.
She mirrored my pout and reluctantly removed her hand from the textbook and flipped it open.
It’s been almost a year since I last saw her. But time has blessed her well and she’s now even more beautiful than before. Her hair was now a length that finally allowed for natural curls and it was dyed a fierce and passionate deep red. She was definitely the best view I’ve ever had for months.
Perfume emanated from her and floated in the air. It lingered mischievously in the air, seeming to disappear when I inhale deeply, then teasingly returning when I take an unconscious small sniff.
We studied for a while, before she left the room, saying she needed fresh air. I put my pens down and abandoned my work to follow her. We walked out of the deathly silent room and it was as if we had entered an alternate world altogether. This new world we entered was silent too, but it was the peaceful quiescence of the night, not the oppressive quiet of students cramming for an exam that will not matter at all five years down the road. This silence is blissful, and it calmed our senses down, despite us being one of the few beings awake amongst a slumbering majority.
She answered nature’s call as I waited at the top step of a flight of stairs that faced a small thicket of trees. She joined me shortly afterwards, playfully flicking water towards my face. We laughed heartily together, ignorant of the fact that we were guilty of puncturing the night’s tranquil.
Then we quieten down, as if an invisible guardian of the night robbed us of our childish jubilation. We were forced once more to face our own realities. Hers, of her exams, and mine, a more current problem, how to figure her out? I wanted so badly to hold her hand, which I was strongly aware of, through furtive glances from the corner of my eye.
But I could not. She is not and will never be a lover of mine for reasons complicated beyond explanation; I felt like the male lead in my tragic literature books that were all governed by the rule ‘So near, yet so far.’
She stood up. And so did I. Then she walked back to the room, and so did I, with the undying question on my mind – never wishing more than I did then for the ability to read minds – how does she truly feel about me?
Sweat coated Bradley’s palms like the natural moisture that a toad excretes. He rubbed them furiously on his pants but the sweat just kept coming back. Nervousness only began to describe how he was feeling. It was lucky that he was usually quiet, because his friends did not notice any change in his behavior at all.
Then the lights dimmed, and a man whose body shape resembled a hazelnut stepped onto stage. He was wearing a black dress shirt that was stretched so tightly over his protruding belly that the stretched fabric made the buttons seem like they each had their own pair of wings. Of course, his peculiar outfit was complete with the skinniest red tie that Bradley had ever seen.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr hazelnut boomed, “Please settle down shortly, the shows are about to begin.”
Then he waddled off stage.
A young man stepped onto stage, followed by two other men, one of which was carrying a violin. Bradley recognised them immediately. They were Gentle Bones! The sweating was now worriedly prominent. The beads of sweat glistened on Bradley’s forehead as if he had just drank a litre of tom yum, sparkling in the midst of the throng of other smooth foreheads.
But Bradley did not notice. The band was beginning to play. They played out their first ever single that made it to the charts. How apt – to pick to play their first famous hit as the first song of the concert.
The crowd was cheering now and hands waved frantically in the air, remarkably similiar to how they behaved when trying to flag a cab during rush hour. Bradley tend to make the weirdest comparisons at the oddest times.
“How are you tonight?”
The crowd went wild.
“Okay, for my next song, I’m going to sing Settle Down. Sing along if you know the lyrics.”
Then he began to strum.
Bradley’s impatience was now killing him. But the lead singer then added, “Oh and this song is a dedication to a certain girl in the crowd.”
Bradley perked up.
“Can I see where Beverly is sitting? Beverly Lui,” he asked.
A huge concoction of excited screams and shrieks erupted from a corner of the small ballroom. Bradley’s ears made out the voice of a girl screaming, “SHE’S HERE! SHE’S HERE!”
He turned, as did the hundred other foreheads in the throng. A spotlight shone down on the excited shrieking group, and finally a girl was pulled to her feet by her friends. She gave her friends a friendly look of annoyance before adjusting her hair and smiling sheepishly to the hundred foreheads that were now pointed directly at her.
Bradley’s heart stopped. She looked more gorgeous than she had looked in the past three days of this camp they were currently attending together. She had on a cute, white lacey crop top and a sleek black pencil skirt. Basics, simple yet elegant, and she furnished her look with golden colored accessories.
“Beverly, this message is for you,” the lead singer spoke, in his unbelievably melodic voice, while gently strumming the guitar, “Beverly, I wish that you and me could Settle Down.”
The crowd went crazy again with whoops and wolf whistles.
Then all of a sudden, Bradley stood up, joining her as the only other person in the throng that was standing up. It took the lighting directors a while to notice, but eventually they shined another spotlight on him. The dazzling white light reflected off the sweat that now coated his forehead like a second skin, making him look like he had on very sparkly make up.
The crowd quietened down. His friends that sat around him were glancing at each other quizzically. The nearest one asked him in a hushed whisper, “Bradley! What are you doing?! Sit down!”
Then from somewhere else, someone else whispered, “I think he dedicated the song to Beverly!”
But Bradley’s attention was now wholly focused on Beverly, and her stunning beauty. He slowly waded his way through the throng, stepping on toes and fingers and phones and wallets and causing some annoyance, but he did not stop until he was within arm’s reach of Beverly.
Beverly was a head shorter than Bradley was and she looked up to him with eyes that were wide in anticipation and a lip that was pursed in a shy but cute manner.
Then Bradley spoke. A nervous person by nature, being placed in this position did nothing to boost his confidence and his voice was beyond inaudible to anyone but Beverly. The crowd went dead silent and craned their heads and ears as one towards the couple, a fruitless attempt. After a while, someone from the other end of the room yelled, “JUST KISS HER ALREADY.”
The throng took this as a cue and began to chant KISS! KISS! KISS!
Beverly had never expected something like this to happen. Bradley seemed to her like a genuinely nice guy but she never took him for the romantic type that was capable of a gesture of such a scale. But she felt very attracted to him for some reason. The truth is, they were very suitable for each other and their minds worked exactly the same way, and Bradley was also wondering where he had gotten the guts to carry out an actual song dedication.
Since I already made it here, might as well go all the way, he thought and he leaned in for the kiss.
Oh my god, he’s actually going for the kiss, thought Beverly, as well as several other drama-loving girls in the throng.
Beverly closed her eyes, and loosened her jaw muscles, opening her mouth slightly, and waited for the kiss.
She tried to recall all her ‘training’ with her ex boyfriend. Was it to use tongue from the start or no tongue at all?
Senseless questions began to bombard her one after another but eventually she got rid of them, which was when she realized the kiss still has not reached her.
She opened her eyes slowly, afraid to ruin the moment, but then suddenly she felt Bradley’s weight crash into her. Her eyes flew wide open as her knees buckled under his weight and the two came crashing down.
An excited whisper began to wash over the throng. The lead singer was watching awkwardly, completely unfamiliar with being onstage yet not being the center of attention. He desperately wanted the spotlight back and he signaled to his band to start playing.
“Um okay, thanks Beverly and Bradley. I hope you enjoy the song, Settle Down.”
He was thrust into the room that felt completely foreign to him. He hovered by the door hesitantly, scanning the faces one by one, hoping that he will see someone familiar, but knowing he would not. There was indeed no one he knew. Shit. He wished then that he was invisible, or could camouflage but he already felt eyes on him and he felt the hands pulling him forward and pushing him from behind.
He stood with his arms hanging down infront of him, making his bulk look smaller than it actually was. His eyes were trained at his feet and the floral patterned carpet but they slowly wandered up, and his eyes met many other pairs that were looking expectantly at him. His mouth twitched into a nervous smile which resembled more of a gritting of his teeth with the corners of his mouth turned up slightly.
“I- I- I’m Rick.”
“Hi Rick!” came the chorus.
He was ushered into a seat beside a girl bearing a “MED RAG” tee. He thought she looked gorgeous. Naturally, he blushed.
“Hi there!” The girl turned to face him enthusiastically. “Your name is Rick right?”
He nodded, his eyes darting from the ground, to her face, then back to the ground again.
“Is Rick short for anything?”
He nodded again, this time he kept his eyes trained at the leg of the chair in front of him.
The girl looked at him expectantly and ducked her head to try to see his face, which was half hidden because he kept his head bowed and his long hair obscured her from a perfect view. Then, realizing he was not going to speak, she spoke up instead.
“Hey, you don’t have to be so shy!! My name is Elsa! Like from the movie Frozen!” She stuck out her hand.
He stopped boring the carpet with his gaze and looked at her hand. Rather, he examined it as if he was trying to decide if it was harmful to him in any way. The pair paused there uncertainly, waiting for Rick to complete the gesture. Then instead, Elsa moved and grabbed Rick’s right hand with hers, and shook it.
“There!” She let go of his hand. “So what do you study?”
“Accounting,” he mumbled.
Elsa was then feeling very grateful for the fact that she had excellent hearing because otherwise, she would never have heard his whisper over the loud din. Everyone were having great conversations around her and getting to know one another. It was the first icebreaker session they had as a group and everyone was speaking all at once and the room resembled a noisy fish market in the morning.
“Are you a freshman?”
He nodded. Then he spoke up. “You?”
As he spoke, he stopped bowing his head and looked up at her. It was the first time after he entered the room when his eyes saw something beautiful other than the carpet. His eyes unintentionally widened and a deep red flushed across his face. He immediately looked back to the florals on the ground. He hoped she did not notice.
But she did.
Elsa felt a flutter of hope when he finally raised his head, then she finally got a clear view of his face and what she saw surprised her greatly. He had an adorable nose and a pair of black spectacles framed a pair of curious, albeit shy, eyes. But the main feature she noticed was the deep red of his cheeks. Was he blushing? Her smile faltered for a second. Then she picked up the conversation once more.
“So what school were you from?”
Rick now was very careful to orientate his head such that his hair completely obscured his face now. He could feel the heat in his cheeks and wished that it would go away.
“Anderson,” He answered.
“Anderson JC? Oh okay, I’m from poly(technic).”
Rick felt a twinge of disappointment. He had a poor impression of polytechnic students. He himself went to a Junior College and he always thought polytechnic students were an academically ill-equipped bunch. But this girl seemed genuinely nice, and there was something about her that made him be able to tell that she was smart. Possibly smarter than him, but that is not very likely.
Gingerly, his mouth moved and formed words that he never imagined he would ever utter that night, if not forever.
Elsa was caught by surprise when her excellent hearing picked up his words as well.
“Elsa, I don’t like poly students.”
She felt a disgust surge through her because she always believed in kindness.
Rick waited a long pause before he plucked the courage to say the next sentence that followed.
Rick dreaded going back to school. He did not look forward to seeing her again. Not a single bit. He broke up with May before the year-end break and it was violent. So he was literally afraid of going back to school. But who was he to defy all the rules set by the school, the scholarship board, the ministry of education and his parents? To school, he had to go.
He noticed a girl while commuting to school. She was cherry blonde. And she looked oddly familiar. She looked young, like she was still studying. He wondered why she looked so familiar to him. But he did not get a good look at her throughout the ride, so when he finally reached his school’s bus stop, he hoped to catch a clear glimpse of her face as he walked past her. But when the bus doors opened, she got off too.
He walked fast, trying to get ahead of her, but she walked faster. She reached the school doors before he did and she walked into the administration office. He gave up chase – you needed an appointment to enter that office. But he did finally get a glimpse of her face on the office door glass before she went in. He thought he made a mistake because the girl he saw was Carmen, his childhood sweetheart.
Rick and Carmen went to the same kindergarten and primary school. They were tablemates for four years. Everyday, he would write a love poem – or at least it is a love poem if you considered the fact that an eight year old wrote it and gave him some slack – to her. And then she would giggle as she read it and afterwards flirt with him. It took them six months to start holding hands and then another year after that to peck each other on the cheek. But it was not until the day before she transferred that he gathered the courage to kiss her on the lips. It was not French or a sloppy kiss rather than both kids just putting their lips in contact and then sort of smiling and holding it there. Then he never saw her again.
So he could not believe his eyes when he saw her reflection on the glass and he thought it was just someone who looked very similar to Carmen, but was not actually her. His doubt did not last until first period.
Ms Junie walked into the classroom, sending students scrambling to get to their seats before her books reached her desk. He plopped into his seat too, and adjusted his hair, ready and attentive. But then someone was following Ms Junie into the classroom. Carmen. At last, Rick got a clear look at her face and all his doubts washed away in an instant. Indeed, it was Carmen. What was she doing here? But god, she looked beautiful. She had grown out her hair – which used to be in a bob cut – and it framed her face perfectly, with a fringe dangling just above her eyes. Her body has grown too, she had curves in all the right places and she was slim in all the others. Her legs were the stuff of every model’s envy and every guy’s fantasy. Her lips were thin but curved upwards in an amiable smile while her hazel eyes scanned the class. When her gaze eventually settled upon Rick, her smile faltered.
“Feel free to seat at any of the empty tables, Carmen.”
Carmen’s gorgeous smile returned as she thanked the teacher then walked hesitantly towards an empty seat. Unfortunately, all the seats around Rick were taken, so Carmen had to pick a seat that was two rows behind his and two tables to his left. Rick’s eyes followed her as she walked past him, while her gaze never left his face. It was one of those dramatic moments that were always in slow-mo when they happened in movies.
Rick had a good reputation with Ms Junie so he did not dare to write notes to Carmen. He did not even dare to risk turning his head. But he watched every agonizing tick of the minute hand of the clock above Ms Junie’s head.
When the bell rang, he remained in his seat. He was looking down, thinking of the perfect words to say. Carmen was right behind him waiting for the last person to leave the class – Ms Junie was the first to leave, anxious to avoid the stampede of students. All of a sudden, Carmen grabbed Rick’s shirt and pulled him out of the chair and pushed him against the wall. Then she pressed her lips against his, hard.
“I’ve missed you *smooch* so damn *another smooch* much.”
“Carmen!” Rick’s pulse was beating so fast from the excitement and also the shock. “Carmen, wait!” He pushed her off. “Why have you come back?”
“Okay, I’m guessing you have a lot of questions. Can’t it wait?” Carmen pouted and Rick thought, damn she has grown so cute!
In a fluid motion he wrapped her in his arms and was kissing her passionately on a desk. He ran his hand through her long blonde curls, getting acquainted with the length. He could feel her fingers digging deep into his waist and back, pressing him against her. Then he heard someone who was not Carmen clear his throat.
The two looked up and stepped away from each other when they saw that it was Mr Pah that has walked in on them. Mr Pah was one of the nicest teachers in their school – but also the strictest. He behaved like a fluffy gerbil to his favorite students, but he could be an unforgiving Rottweiler to students who infringed the school rules. Right now, his eyes were pure dog.
“Two of you come with me. Now.”
Rick muttered a curse under his breath. He never saw this side of Mr Pah, nor has he gotten on the bad side of any of the other teachers. He was the perfect student. ‘Was’ being the keyword here, he thought.
Carmen heard him sigh and saw him walk with his shoulders visibly hunched forward. She grabbed his hand as he followed Mr Pah out into the corridor and held it tight, giving it a squeeze. He looked up, surprised, then he smiled.