“R-Ren, thanks for waiting!”
After getting my things, I waited at the bleachers for Valerie in the slightly chilly autumn breeze. She took longer to gather her things and was now jogging towards me.
“Okay, sorry I took a long time, Ren.”
“No, it is okay.”
She was wearing the school’s uniform — a simple button-up shirt with a collar and black and yellow colour scheme, and plain black pants. Over the uniform, she was wearing a green sweater unzipped. Over her shoulder was a shoulder bag with the same colour pattern that matched our uniform and school’s design.
She had a mood opposite to how she was earlier — she was feeling more motivated. Valerie was pumping her fists in the air in anticipation.
“So, what are we going to do?”
I never told her my plan. It was not anything conceptual like teaching her how to get better suited to the stress — I do not even have a specific strategy to counteract that.
“I’m okay with anything! I’ll do anything to deal with this!”
“Anything at all! No matter what hard thing you throw at me, I’ll overcome it!”
“Valerie? Did you think that I would give you conceptual tips?”
Valerie stopped and turned to me.
“Huh? Well, aren’t you going to give me pointers on how to better deal with things?”
“Sorry, that is not what I plan to do…”
“Oh? Then what?..
I had a guess in mind, but I needed to confirm if it was right.
“Well, the ones who forced this plan on you were your parents, right? We are going to talk to them?”
“Well, you never told me explicitly, but I assume it was your parents — and it is usually parents who make these decisions for their children.”
Valerie’s eyes widened in astonishment and she started waving her hands at me in disapproval.
“What!? No, I can’t! I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…”
I raised my finger to stop her.
“I said ‘we’, as in I will be there to assist you…”
I put my hand on the back of my neck and turned my head.
“Or if you prefer, I will talk to them myself.”
I looked at Valerie. She was settled down and was talking in a low voice — a weak-sounding voice.
“Ren, this is my parents we are talking about! I, um… I just can’t disobey them…”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, they are just so important to me. They gave birth to me, they raised and took care of me for my entire life, and provided me with the things I need to grow. It, um… I just can’t, you know — it feels too mean! I’m eternally indebted to them, so I shouldn’t go against them!”
“That is true… But if that is the case, then are they really your parents?”
Valerie was in disbelief.
“What? What are you talking about? Of course, they are! Or, um, if you’re asking, then you probably mean something else, right?”
I confirmed this by nodding.
“Yeah, they are your parents and always will be, but right now, they are not acting that way…”
“What do you mean?”
I put my hand on my chin again.
“Not a technicality, but a major thing that defines a parent is that they care for their child. And since they are not taking your views into consideration, they are not currently being caring of you…”
“Huh? Oh, I guess that’s true…”
“Or have you not told them your opinion?”
Valerie cast her eyes in shame. She is ashamed by the fact that she did not tell, but could she also be ashamed by the fact that she did not think that her parents would listen?
I put my hands back at my side and spoke.
“Since they are your parents, they should be willing to listen to your complaints. Yes, 75% of the time, your parents know what is best for their child…
I pointed at her.
“But I think only 25% of the time, your parents know what is best for you — Valerie…”
Valerie slowly tilted her head downwards. She spoke softly, dreading what would occur. I guessed what she would say and readied myself.
“Ren, I know what I have to do… But I don’t know if I have the strength to do it…”
She obviously disapproves of going against her parents. But the stress from her academics is taking a larger toll than what disobeying would leave…
I put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She is obviously scared, so I should console her — after all, she asked me to do so.
“I will be there to assist you.”
She looked up from the ground.
“Really? Then… Thank you!”
“B-But first, I need to prepare myself mentally…”
“Sure, take as much time as you need.”
It was currently just before evening — five in the afternoon. Laurent High School is located in a relatively suburban area, so there were more residential houses than large buildings and big roads. Although, there were large grocery stores and plazas with different restaurants and stores.
As evening slowly fell, the air got colder than what it would be in the afternoon.
As we walked down the sidewalk towards Valerie’s home, I turned my head towards her.
“Ren, I said that I don’t want to join the medical field, right? Instead, I want to work at a restaurant. And not just work at one, I want to own one someday.”
“See, I just love cooking — I learned about my love for it when I was cooking with my aunt one time. I love preparing food and making people who eat them happy. But most of all, I love experimenting. The feeling of creating something awesome is just so…"
She waved her hands around as she tried to come up with what to say.
“It’s just so fulfilling. Sure, there’s a chance that my dishes taste horrible, and that can be discouraging, but it’s whatever. Ten bad dishes can cause ten times the wretchedness, but one extraordinary dish after it can cause twenty times the wonder!”
I see… Yeah, failure and success are synonymous with each other, but how do many failures lead to heightened feelings of success? The success has to outweigh the failure, right? But that is mostly impossible… Failures are always more impactful than successes — and sometimes, no amount of success can help to deal with the feeling of failure.
“But that twenty-times multiplier is only activated by the ten failures — kind of like a comeback mechanic in a fighting game.”
I looked at Valerie in puzzlement.
“Oh, sorry, I’m kind of going through a video game phase right now…”
A moment of silence fell between us. We silently walked as we listened to the sounds of neighborhood children playing in their front yards, people doing mechanical work on their cars, and birds singing to each other…
I turned again.
“Um… Thanks again for helping me with this.”
Valerie ran ahead of me to look directly into my eyes. We stopped.
“Ren… M-My mom is at home right now and my dad is at work, so… Um, sorry, but at times, she can be a bit… um… too much.”
“Like, she does not easily back down from an argument. Even if you explain your point, she’ll take it as disrespect. And, if she is wrong, she does not openly admit it — she dislikes being wrong.”
I cast my eyes downwards. I was thinking, but I think Valerie thought I was feeling sad for her.
“Eh, n-no Ren, it’s not like she’s a bad parent, no, no, no! I seriously love her! She’s the most supportive person I know… It’s just, she can be really stubborn at times.”
I see… I shrugged my shoulders.
“Since you are her daughter, you should do most of the talking, right?”
“Huh? Uh, y-yeah…”
“She may be like that, but deep down, she cares about you — you are being put onto this path because she cares for you and wants you to do well. But if you need help, I will not hesitate to intercept.”
“Oh… Thank you…”
We went back to walking in silence. And as we did, we listened to the cars passing by us, the lawnmowers being used to cut grass, and the dogs tied to front porches barking at us.
Valerie stopped and was behind me. She was looking down and spoke in a really quiet voice, to the point where it was barely audible. A passing car also made it hard for me to hear.
“L-Let's be friends, okay?”
“Uh, n-no, it’s nothing.”
Valerie suddenly started walking at a quicker pace towards her house. She was slightly stuttering when she spoke.
“W-We should hurry up. M-My house i-i-is just close-by.”
For the split-second when she turned her head, I saw that her face was a bit red — is it really that cold?
A walked up to Valerie, matching the pace that she was moving at.
I asked for clarification before, but I heard what she said. Friends, huh? I have no reason to decline her request, but… I did not know much about the concept of friends…