Episode Twenty Two - To Broken Hearts...
Today is Fortune City’s historical day of Independence. For this special occasion, the New Pirates arrive at the shore for the annual fireworks and the expected drunken festivities.
The sun starts to set under the sky and the fireworks wouldn’t be for another few hours. Even so, the beach is already packed with thousands of people barbequing on smoking grills, relaxing on towels and recliner chairs, and enjoying a brisk swim in the water.
The boardwalk is even more crowded with fun-loving citizens. Following the long street made of wooden planks are hordes of endless people swarming the rows of endless carnival games and vendors.
The smell of hotdogs, burgers, fries and funnel cake floats through the air, welcoming the New Pirates as they approach the beach.
“So where’s the best spot for the fireworks?” asks Juniper.
Kitsune looks around and sees nothing but a river of people leading toward the ocean. “It used to be on the other end of the beach. Not sure about this year.”
“I think anywhere closer to the water is good,” Zylo points toward the coastline. “We still got a few hours.”
The crew is still by the entrance and about a thousand people stand between them and the shore.
“I’m hungry. Let’s head toward the boardwalk,” Renzo suggests, leading the charge into the suffocating crowd.
They inch their way to the boardwalk, following slow step after step behind the trail of people. Only upon reaching the wide wooden walkway does the dense crowd finally disperse, giving the crew a breath of fresh air.
With eager minds and impatient stomachs guiding their decisions, the team paces along the masses of vendors searching for the most delectable earthly delights.
“So, where do we start? Should we split up?” Zylo’s excited eyes gleam at the infinite possibilities.
Suddenly, Juniper pulls Zylo toward her and shouts, “Look!” Her hand points into the crowd but Zylo doesn’t have the slightest clue of what she’s seeing.
“What am I looking at?”
Juniper sighs disappointedly, then says to Kitsune and Renzo, “Be back in a bit.” She firmly pulls Zylo into the massive crowd. “Over there, come on!”
“We’ll be here.” Kitsune is barely paying attention as he walks to the hotdog stand.
“See?” Juniper points, still pulling Zylo along.
“What are you talking about?” From his perspective, she is pointing to an arbitrary point among the swarm of people. There is nothing discernable until…wait…he sees it, he sees her. Her black hair recently cut short and an outfit unfamiliar from her usual style.
Zylo’s chest starts to burn hot. It’s Rachel, and she’s… His eyes widen and his heart sinks as the world freezes in time. Standing amid a mild crowd of people, Rachel is joyfully holding hands with an unrecognizable man.
‘Oh, damn it…’
The man is about a foot taller than her with short black hair and a button-up plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves.
‘He’s cool. Not.’
“I’m surprised you saw her from that far.” Zylo tries to remain composed and indifferent. But he’s not. His face is already scorching red, and his clothes suddenly too thick for this weather.
“Me too. You owe me a burger,” she responds, stepping back with a proud smirk.
Zylo drops the apathy and scuttles closer, pulling Juniper along with him. They creep up the boardwalk but the passing people constantly obstruct his view. He wants to catch a better glimpse, possibly afraid the man might be better looking than he is. This man is definitely taller…just slightly. “Can you see the guy?”
Juniper tip-toes trying to glance over the crowd, but shakes her head, “No…not really.”
Rachel and the anonymous man head over to a fried food stand and finally, Zylo recognizes his face.
“Dr. Park? That piece of…” curses Zylo, face angrily tensed.
“Doctor? Not bad Rachel, not bad…” Juniper mutters, gazing in awe at the man. She turns back to Zylo, “Just kidding, don’t feel bad. You okay?”
’I don’t even know. Dr. Park though? Gah. I guess I should’ve expected as much. It’s been seven and a half months. I’m already the worst dead and/or alive boyfriend anyway.’
Zylo leans back against the light post, tense with thoughts and emotions. He can’t help but glance over at Rachel every now and then, except every time he does, they’re sharing a kiss or laughing about something.
’There’s always something to laugh about, isn’t there? Har. Har.’
Zylo can be so bitter.
“If only I didn’t die,” he mumbles.
’If I could’ve stayed in bed with Rachel that day and moved in with her, that guy wouldn’t be holding her hand right now. It could’ve been me sharing a funnel cake with her, but no. It’s that guy she’s sharing food romantically under the sunset with. It’s even more annoying because I don’t know his name. What is his name?! I’m being duped by a handsome guy with no first name.’
“Ugh. This is frustrating.”
Juniper looks intently at him and apologizes, “Hey, I’m sorry. I thought you might’ve wanted to see it. Wanna eat something inste—”
Zylo does the unexpected. His hand clasps Juniper’s waist and pulls her close to him. They stand gazing into each other’s eyes for a moment, and neither saying a word.
Succumbing to his adventurous impulse, Zylo leans close and kisses her. His brash lips push against Juniper’s, and her soft lips push back.
For a moment, he breathes her scent and embraces her warmth as he inhales her.
The smell of lavender in her hair.
Zylo never felt so close to Juniper before. He always thought she was funny, beautiful, and aggressive with an attitude which he liked, but never imagined her as more than a friend.
Because Rachel was always his goal.
Their caressing lips slow down and Juniper steps away smiling. “If you wanted me that badly, you could’ve just asked.”
“I heard most girls don’t like it when guys ask.” Zylo breathes in before chuckling over his impulsive action. His heart pounds with excitement and his face reflects Juniper’s joyous smile.
“Well, next time, don’t do it without my permission. You’re lucky it wasn’t bad,” she compliments with a devilish smirk. “So, I’m assuming that was a rebound kiss.”
“I don’t… I’m not sure. Probably…”
“Figured. I’ve been stressed lately, so you can have that one. How ’bout we get some food now?”
Before following Juniper into the boardwalk, Zylo glances one more time at Rachel. Her flowing black hair and laughing grin gradually disappears into the crowd, and Zylo’s eyes stop chasing.
At the fried snack stand, Juniper doesn’t hesitate to order a bag of fried chocolate-cream cookies and two churros.
Juniper glows with joy as she holds up the bag of treats. “Take a look at these!” Without waiting, she jams one into her mouth and passes the bag to Zylo, “Here, try it.”
Zylo reaches into the bag and pulls out a round, crispy brown ball. The hot and crunchy deep-fried surface quickly breaks apart in his mouth, revealing the warm chocolate center within. The taste is creamy and sweet, and he quickly reaches for another one. “Holy crap, this is amazing.”
“I’ve had fried cheese cake and fried ice cream but this is nuts. I don’t even like cookies.”
“I always get these here.”
Walking closely together, the pair continues down the boardwalk enjoying the scenery of the water and breathing in the ocean breeze. The lingering crimson and orange rays of light still cling brightly over the horizon.
’I’m not sure what I want from her. I like Juniper, I know this. But I don’t know if this impulsive infatuation is based on something genuine, or just a desire to fill the void where Rachel used to be.
“Is this becoming a date?” asks Zylo.
“Don’t worry about it.” Juniper leads him by the hand through the boardwalk. They trek calmly at a relaxed pace, enjoying the sights and absorbing the festive atmosphere. “Let’s see where this goes.”
Juniper eagerly takes an empty seat by an outdoor bar counter. She shouts to the bartender, “I’d like two sake bombs please! And gimme a plate of chicken tenders.”
Zylo grabs the barstool adjacent and scans Juniper’s facial expression. He knows her well, very well in fact, but even now he is lost.
’What does she want from this? But then again, I was the one who kissed her. What do I want?’
The bartender shortly returns with two shot glasses and two mugs of beer.
“How should we do this?” Zylo eyes the drink.
“Well,” she lifts the shot glass to her face. “To broken hearts and infidelity.” The two simultaneously drop the shot glasses into the beer mugs before chugging the entire drink, together.
Gulp after gulp, the taste of the beer flows into Zylo’s mouth, abruptly followed by the sudden rush of sake. The taste is refreshing, and shamefully relieving.
“Ah…” the two exhale and smile.
Not a moment too soon, the plate of chicken tenders arrive and they quickly help themselves.
Zylo dips the golden piece of chicken into the honey mustard sauce, but shortly bitten by Juniper’s chomping mouth.
“Yeah, that’s good,” she chews, then smiles, “did you like how I did that? Was that romantic for you?”
“It was. We should do more of that in front of people. Like, a lot of people. Maybe then I’ll consider going all the way with you.” Zylo finishes the piece of chicken, whatever little is left.
“Oh, really? You’re pretty easy.”
“Why does everyone say that? And by everyone, I mean you and Kitsune.”
“Must be the truth.”
“So…” he dips another one, “have you ever been with any hunters?” Before she answers, he changes his mind and says, “Actually, don’t answer that.”
She laughs and covers her mouth filled with food, “I’ll tell you anyway. No I haven’t. Made out with one or two, but never thought to be serious with anyone.”
“Well, isn’t that just swell.” A sigh of relief and he eats another. “You’ve never made out with Bull, have you?”
Juniper stops chewing for a second, pauses with a stare, and mutters, “Um…would that be bad?”
“I think I’ll have to reconsider this night then.”
“More drinks, please!” Juniper calls to the bartender. She turns back to Zylo, “Hey, you ever wonder why Kitsune never drives? And he gets Renzo to do it every time?” She lightly dabs a crispy piece of chicken into the sauce.
“…He doesn’t know how to drive,” she stares blankly at Zylo for a second, then bursts into laughter.
Zylo chuckles, “That’s dumb. You’re lying.”
“I’m serious. Ask him next time.”
They turn from their seats toward the boardwalk and watch the endless crowds of people flowing in all directions. There are couples, parents with children, groups of friends hanging out, and individuals enjoying the night by their lonesome.
“This would be totally awkward if Rachel saw me right now,” says Zylo.
“Why? Because I’m here?”
“No, because she saw me die. She’d be wondering why I’m out having fun and being, you know—super alive.”
Zylo sighs, “God, Dr. Park though? I mean, dude’s a doctor but, is he good looking? Better looking than me?”
“Yes, he is. Though I’m sure it’s only because he’s taller.” Juniper is ever so supportive.
“Well, is he richer than me?” Zylo asks.
“Yeah, he probably is.”
“I mean spiritually richer,” he asks.
“Oh, maybe not?” Juniper begins munching on a piece of watermelon she ordered.
“Well, I bet he’s never killed a person,” Zylo continues.
“Yeah, in fact, he’s probably saved a lot. I mean, guy’s a doctor, right?” Juniper digs through the rest of the watermelon slice while being the greatest friend she can be.
“Yeah, that’s true. Damn…”
“Look,” Juniper wipes her mouth. “Don’t worry about him, okay? Just keep doing your own thing. You can’t change what’s already happened. How things are now, is how they’re meant to be. I mean, we can go kick his ass if you want…is that what you want?”
Zylo considers it.
“No, that’s okay…” Zylo mutters.
“Exactly. Nothing you can do. Calm your nuts and stop stressing.”