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for as long as it lasts

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Against all the odds, he's the last one to go.

He's also the first one to come back.

Reggie - this Reggie - walks into his first club at the tender age of two. His parents are taking him on a stroll down Clarke Quay at night when his father sets Reggie down so he can re-tie his shoelace, and his mother stops to get a photo of the view. This happens when they're standing right in front of Attica. There's a raucous group of teenagers trying to get past the bouncers and through the door Reggie can see bright lights and moving bodies and hear the thump of the beat. For a two-year-old, it's magnetic. Too busy trying to wrestle away the teenagers, the bouncers don't even notice a child toddling into the club, babbling gleefully at the sights around him.

He doesn't spend more than three minutes inside Attica - his mother quickly realises her son has disappeared and screams her head off and the bouncers hear her and panic and a quick ragtag little rescue operation finds Reggie standing not five feet from the entrance of the club, watching people at the bar and on the dance floor with childlike fascination. 

The night walks around Clarke Quay don't end, but Reggie gets a stroller and stays firmly buckled in. He doesn't remember it, but being in Attica feels right for him, for his two-year-old heart, and it's a feeling he doesn't revisit until many years later.

 

 

In this life, Catherine gets four siblings - two older, two younger. She's a quiet kid who does well in school and fades well into the background. She doesn't have a lot of friends, and she's the only one in her family who needs to get glasses when she's ten. Her older brother teases her, calls her four-eyes, says she'll never get a boyfriend and she'll be All Alone Forever. He gets a stern rebuke from their father, but not before Catherine snaps at him. "You're wrong." 

It's instinctive. Her eldest sister commends her for standing up for herself, but deep inside Catherine thinks it wasn't just defending herself against her brother's jibes. It was more of a sense of... knowing. Knowing for a fact, against all common sense, that she will find her tribe and love them hard and they'll love her back. She just has to wait.

 

 

This is a different Singapore. One that's been cleaned up around the edges. Soft rock gets played on the radio and it's strictly first come first serve at the post office. The underworld exchanges itself for white collar crime and crimes of passion and all the weird shit that happens in Yishun. Bad shit still happens, but you don't see that many O$P$ spraypainted on the walls of shady apartment blocks any more. It being a better time to live in is difficult to define, subjective - but it's safer. Muthu still doesn't have that fantastic a childhood, but the furthest he goes is sneaking cigarettes into school and procuring a fake ID so he can buy a six-pack at 7-11. 

He's still a good leader, still a good organiser, still good at making friends and keeping them. He wants to make something of his life, and he has dreams. One of his teachers sits down with him and they have a frank chat about how he's a good kid, but the longer he stays in the grey the easier it's going to be to slip into the dark than come into the light. She doesn't tell him to clean up his act, not in that many words, but he gets it. It's enough.

 

 

This time, the fortune-teller says she was born in love, and there is no mention of dying.

Pinky isn't born with that name. It's not that she doesn't like the name her parents gave her, really, but it doesn't ever exactly sit right. Sometimes she forgets it belongs to her, and then her parents will call her again and again and finally she'll find her annoyed mother in the doorway of her room telling her to come down for dinner right now. It's weird, but she's still a kid, so she doesn't really think about it. Like most things she doesn't understand, she guesses she'll figure it out when she becomes an adult. 

When she's five, her father's best friend returns from Germany after finishing a Masters degree there. Two years later the family is invited to his firstborn daughter's one-month celebration. It's a big party, and the house is crowded and cacophonous when they walk in, and Pinky's a little overwhelmed, until she walks into the kitchen. There's a boy, maybe five years older than she is, getting a drink from the fridge. He looks up at her, their eyes meet, and - something clicks. Something. 

"Hey, Pinky," he says, directly at her, and for a moment she thinks she knows his name but then it slips. He furrows his brow a second after he speaks. "Wait, sorry, I don't know why I - I don't know why I called you that. Sorry. Weird. Huh."

And it is a little weird, but for some strange reason it seems right. It seems to fit. It seems to be the name she's been searching for all this time. She thinks she might want to be called Pinky, maybe as her nickname, from now on. It just fits. She smiles at the boy and says so, and he relaxes with a grin. "Cool. Hi, I guess."

"What's your name?" Pinky asks as he passes a drink.

"I'm Muthu," he answers. "Nice to meet you."

 

 

Jeff and Ima are still born in Malacca. Their parents have bigger dreams for both of them, and ship them off to Singapore to study. Neither of them do great at first, and then take different approaches to deal with that. Ima works harder, works longer, makes herself learn to fall in love with the books, the homework, the classes. Her grades never turn out spectacular, but they're good enough to take her to JC and beyond, to keep the dream alive. Jeff, on the other hand, lets his textbooks collect dust in his locker while he spends hours after school in the music room, practicing on the guitar until his fingers are numb. When Ima confronts him about his failing grades, he just tells her he's following a different dream.

"Don't you want to follow your dreams?" He pleads, and she softens when she sees his sincerity, his conviction. 

"I don't know what I want yet," she admits. "I'm just going to keep going till I do." 

 

 

Everyone has to learn the recorder in primary school. Everyone also complains about how thoroughly useless it is. In fairness, most recorders get shoved into the backs of closets after lower primary music classes and never see daylight again. Sat Kee's father complains endlessly about how much the instrument costs, so he's a little bit nervous handling it during his first music lesson. He treats the instrument as gently and delicately as possible, makes sure it never touches the ground. 

They end that music lesson with the teacher calling Sat Kee aside after the bell rings and telling him he has more potential than she's ever seen in five years of teaching music. "Have you ever played any other woodwind instruments? Saxophone, maybe? The clarinet? The flute?"

Sat Kee's never even so much as touched a piano or a guitar or even a castanet, but something stirs inside him when the teacher mentions the flute. He shakes his head, and she nods. "That's quite impressive. Maybe you should try out for the orchestra. Our band could use someone like you in the woodwind section."

He tells his classmates what the teacher says, and they just laugh. It's not a kind sound. In their still-young minds, being good at the recorder might as well mean being good at nothing at all.

After the year ends, Sat Kee puts his recorder on the shelf behind his books and tries out for the soccer team like all the other guys do. It stays there for a good many years.

But it doesn't stay there forever, and he doesn't know it then, but there comes a time it sees the light of day again and never finds its way back into the shelf. 

 

 

Before, they met through Starlight - but this is a different time, a different world. Amanda and Vernon get to know each other in primary school. Someone steals Vernon's journal two weeks into the start of his Primary Six year, the one that has all his original lyrics written inside. The resident troublemaker won't own up or give it back, and laughs in Vernon's face when he shakily threatens to go to their form teacher. Amanda, who hasn't said a word to anyone in class since school began, walks straight up to the troublemaker and punches him in the chest. She's got him on the floor before he finally reaches into his bag and throws Vernon's journal back at him. 

Amanda never gets into trouble, courtesy of the boy's ego and his unwillingness to let anyone know he was beaten up by a girl. Vernon says thank you, and Amanda just shrugs. "I don't like bullies. What do you have in that journal anyway?"

It's the longest sentence she's ever strung together in most of her time in school. Vernon grins wide and flips the pages to show her his original songs. In years to come they'll both cringe and laugh when they look back on the awful childish ideas he had, but for now, they're simply the creations he's incredibly proud of. Amanda eyes them with interest. "You write songs?"

"Yeah. You too?"

"Not yet, but I'd like to." 

Vernon smiles at her. "You can join me if you want?" 

For her birthday, a week before the PSLE, he takes out his savings and buys her a brand-new journal. She fills it cover to cover by the end of secondary school, but never throws it away.

 

 

Kerry and Patrick, on the other hand, meet for the second time, in a new lifetime, in secondary school. Specifically, in CCA. Their school offers international dance and Pat's one of the few boys who dares to put aside the macho masculinity crap and do something he genuinely enjoys. 

"I would've joined comedy club, but we don't have one," he tells Kerry when they're practicing a routine for the upcoming founders day celebrations. She laughs. "Pat, you can't tell jokes to save your life."

"I can too," Pat says. "Listen to this: why did the elephant paint his toenails red?"

Kerry rolls her eyes, gracefully finishing her turn. "Why?"

"So he could hide in a cherry tree!" Patrick goes off in gales of laughter, and Kerry sighs. "That was bad the first time you told it, and it hasn't aged well either."

He squints at her. "I've never told this joke. I just came up with it yesterday."

"Really? I could've sworn I heard it before."

Pat shrugs. "Never mind. You didn't laugh. Want to hear another one?"

Kerry shudders visibly. "No, Pat, I want to dance. You can tell me all the jokes you want later when we go help the class with the puppet show for the national day concert." 

"I love puppets," Pat sighs, but takes Kerry's hand and starts moving into the routine. 

 

 

---

 

 

Some things stay the same - Reggie still doesn't go into the entertainment business straightaway. He does a typical triple science combination in school, then gets an economics degree in university and works at an insurance company for a bit. He rises up the ranks, gets a corner office, gets a proper nameplate and a long-service award, and a secretary. Her name is Catherine, and after she starts working with Reggie he wonders how he ever survived without her. 

"Don't sweat it. Men are naturally more absent-minded, I'm not surprised your schedule was a mess before I stepped in," Catherine tells him when he voices his appreciation, because it has taken her a couple of years to sharpen her tongue and her wit and now she's proficient at it. He can't dispute the point. "Anyway, your ten o'clock's running late so I shifted your break earlier, which means you can see Mrs Naidu at noon instead of half past and she won't get all up in your case about how inefficient you are, and yes, she's already been informed." Catherine says, lifting a finger to stall Reggie's concern. "Your meeting starts at one, the relevant files are on your desk. You have to pick your goddaughter up from school at six, and then both of you are attending your cousin's housewarming at six-thirty which should net you enough time to get there punctually. And you've got an eight AM meeting tomorrow morning so set your alarm clock early, please. I haven't forgotten what happened that time with that magnate from Perth." 

Reggie groans and puts his head on the desk. "This job is killing me, this is so not what I signed up for. When I was young I thought that when I grew up I would have adventure! And excitement! Some real action in my life, you know?"

"It's an insurance company, Mr Reg," Catherine says patiently. "If you want action and adventure and excitement I doubt you're in the right line of work."

When Reggie looks back up there's a light in his eyes Catherine's not used to seeing. It's a bit nerve-inducing. "Um, Mr Reg? What are you thinking?"

 

 

Some things change - for the better. Drugs are so strictly outlawed in the modern day that Pinky never goes down that road. She does fall into some vices but Muthu's there to keep her in line and it's a different time, so they both pull themselves back from the edge before they can plunge into the abyss at all. 

He gets a low-level job in the insurance company Reggie works at, and meets Reggie and Cat.

She joins a local modern dance group that perform out of passion, not for profit, and meets Kerry. 

Both meetings go well. Muthu just sits down at the table they're sharing without thinking about it and they tell him to stay even when he excuses himself apologetically. Kerry trips over her shoelace and Pinky catches her by the shoulder without really thinking about it.

It's the beginning of beautiful new friendships - or beautiful old ones, depending on how you look at them. 

 

 

Vernon goes off to Australia to study, leaving Amanda to navigate the murky depths of university on her own. She gives him six months.

It's alone in university where she meets Jeff. Not because he's studying there - as he says himself, god forbid - but she's fuelling her muse at the university's on-location coffee shop and he's working there to save up the money so he can buy a new guitar and amps. 

In this world she doesn't fall in love with him so much as she falls in love with the way he takes her words and spins them into symphonies, plucking out a real song on his beat-up acoustic guitar. She sneaks him into the oft-ignored music room and they jam after hours, talk about their dreams, their hopes. It's easy between them, and nothing changes even after a year when Vernon comes running back from Australia and starts working in the coffee shop too. They take their jam sessions to the roof of the law block and talk about life over bottles of cheap beer.

"You know, we could be stars. We just need to find the right time, the right place, answer when opportunity knocks, and we'll get there," Jeff says, lying on a tarp Vernon dragged up the staircase, and Amanda drinks to that. "Just let me finish uni first, all right?"

 

 

Patrick and Kerry keep in touch even when their paths diverge. He's serious about comedy and puppetry and ventriloquism, and she's deadly serious about dance, which naturally takes them different routes. Kerry forgoes college to go straight to pursuing the passion. Patrick does go, but his parents still freak out at him for a week because it's an arts-only college and he's pursuing a degree in performance. He meets Ima - Arts Management - and Sat Kee - Music - on his second day of orientation, and the first words out of Sat Kee's mouth are: don't I know you?

"Um," Pat replies, and for a fleeting second he wants to answer yes, I know you too, I've known you, I know you! but then his mind clears and the boy before him is a stranger again. "I don't think so, but... nice to meet you, I guess?"

 

 

---

 

 

It takes a while, but they keep converging, closer and closer, until finally, it happens - that one stone's throw that sets off the ripple effect, that puts everything into motion.

"There's this new nightclub opening," Patrick tells Ima and Sat Kee.

"Groundbreaking," Sat Kee answers, eyes never leaving the TV. 

Pat sighs and rolls up the newspaper, tossing it in the direction of Sat Kee's head. "Don't give me the mournful cynical blues singer attitude, you play the flute. Stop being a baby and read the article on the sixth page." 

Ima, bless her heart, reaches across to eye the newspaper. "What does the opening of a new nightclub have to do with us?"

"Come on! They'll need entertainment, right? So, you," Pat says, pointing at Sat Kee. "Flute."

Sat Kee snorts. "Who's ever seen a flute in a club?"

"Exactly," Pat answers triumphantly. "Look, the article says that it's supposed to be some new nightclub, with a totally different vibe to it, unique, bringing something fresh to the nightlife. What's more unique than a flute in a club? I can do stand-up. Ima, you could apply to be part of the crew!" He sees their disbelieving faces and rolls his eyes. "Come on, guys, it's worth a try!"

There are a few grumbles, but Pat urges them on. For some reason he just feels really compelled to try and be part of the new nightclub's lineup. It's like it's calling him, irresistible. It's probably the need to pay the rent, he decides, and keeps wheedling his friends. 

 

 

Ima's the one who texts Jeff about the news. He checks his phone while Vernon and Amanda try to figure out what's going on with the mic, and lets out a whoop that shocks both of them. "What? What is it? What happened?"

"Look at this!" Jeff says, showing them Ima's photo of the news article. "A new club, needing new entertainment. Remember what I said about opportunity knocking? I tell you two, this is the door!" 

Vernon squints suspiciously at the article. "They say they want unique entertainment. What's so unique about a three-man band?"

"When was the last time you saw a live band in a nightclub?" Amanda retorts. "Let's give this a shot when they open, dude. It looks pretty cool. I wonder what it's going to look like."

 

 

Muthu's driving Kerry and Pinky home when the radio station fades out on a song and starts the talk break. They mention the new nightclub, and the disc jockeys hype up the whole 'unique fresh take on nightlife' thing that the club's pushing. Pinky's falling asleep on Kerry's shoulder, and is rudely awoken by Kerry prodding her in the ribs. "Listen to this, listen!"

Pinky grumbles and both Muthu and Kerry shush her, which is how she knows they're serious. She rubs her eyes and tries to listen to what the jocks are saying. "A new nightclub?"

"We have to tell the other dancers about this, this could be something, imagine dancing at a club, a real club!" Kerry gushes. 

Muthu taps his fingers on the steering wheel and grins. "I could talk to the owner for you, but I think you'll still have to audition."

This statement is met by the girls' staring. "You know the owner?"

"Reggie Sim. Worked at the insurance company I'm employed by, was a bigshot but retired recently saying he wanted a change of pace. Guess this was his idea of a change. I did have my suspicions, but I wasn't sure that he was actually going to open a nightclub. Very ambitious. I'm excited for the grand opening."

"Oh my god, that Reggie Sim? The one who got out of the car to open the door for me when you picked me up after work? He's opening this nightclub?" Pinky asks, wide awake now. "I'm sorry, he looks like he belongs in a CEO corner office, not... the entertainment industry."

"Change of pace, Pinky, you'll understand when you're older," Muthu says indulgently, and Kerry snickers. "Pinky loves dance too much to ever want to do anything else."

Pinky pretends to think hard. "Well, I might try go-go dancing instead of modern dance..."

 

 

The minute the deal goes through Reggie's on the site, touring the abandoned building he's going to revamp and turn into a brand-new nightclub. He's talking animatedly as he turns all the corridors, laying out his ambitious plans, and Catherine just scribbles furiously, taking notes. The way he describes it, it's like he's creating the eighth world wonder. They're definitely going to have to scale down some of the ideas, but for now Cat just lets him have his moment. 

They're back at the front door before Reggie takes a breath, sighing contentedly. "Nobody's ever going to forget this place." 

"What are you going to call it?" Catherine asks, still doing calculations on her phone.

And for the briefest moment, Reggie swears the name Tropicana leaps into his mind, along with this quiet, aching tug of nostalgia. Something like want, something like longing, something like love. 

He shakes his head, dispelling the feeling - the name sounds too Vegas, too old-school, too much like that - oh god, it is the name of that brand of orange juice or something. Reggie chuckles to himself, then turns to Catherine with a grin. "What do you think of Zouk?"