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I Won't Let Him

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ONE DAY LEFT…

AUBREY didn't know what possessed her to pull out the photo album again after all this time.

Maybe it was from seeing KEL earlier yesterday.

Maybe it was because she looked at the calendar and remembered that SUNNY's birthday was about to come up tomorrow.

Maybe it was because she just wanted to make sure the photo album was still safe and intact.

Maybe it was all three reasons combined. Who knows? Certainly not her.

Still, when she pulled the photo album out from underneath the lockbox under her bed, she felt compelled to at least go through the memories one more time.

Sitting there in her room, in the attic of her house, she perused through the old memories of eight years ago at her desk.

It'd been a while since she took the time to go through this again. When was the last time she actually opened this ever since BASIL gave it to her for safekeeping?

Maybe… two-ish years now? Huh. That long?

She'd have to apologize to BASIL later about this then if the topic ever came up. She definitely wasn't giving it the loving treatment that BASIL would have if he was still holding on to it.

Flipping to the last page of the album, she gave a depressed sigh as her eyes fell to the very last photo of the book.

(9/22): After some begging, SUNNY came to join MARI for recital practice... Hehe... They're still working out some stuff, but they already sound so amazing! I know they're going to be great. Go, MARI! Go, SUNNY! You can do it!

The photo of SUNNY and MARI practicing for their recital six years ago. Back when he was still awake. The last photo BASIL ever took of SUNNY being awake…

She gently closed the photo album and leaned back in her chair, staring aimlessly up at her roof.

Things changed so much after all these years… Ever since SUNNY became comatose, nothing had been the same.

At first, it was small. Barely noticeable changes. When they still had hope that SUNNY would wake up sometime soon, her old friend group was still closely knit together. She made the effort to hang out with BASIL and KEL at school. She did her best to wait patiently for HERO to make time for her. She earnestly gave her best effort to try to spend time with MARI…

But when SUNNY didn't wake up, and HERO moved on to go to college, it dawned on all of them that maybe things wouldn't go back to the way things were.

KEL probably realized this first when he suddenly stopped joining them to visit SUNNY. Did his best to avoid the topic too until he eventually stopped talking to her and moved on to be with other friends.

Heh… As much as she hated KEL for that, she only just realized how she actually did the same. So she was no better than him. What a hypocrite she was to act all high and mighty and ignore him yesterday when he reached out to her for the first time in years.

Whatever. Piece of shit still deserved it.

When KEL left, it starting being only MARI and AUBREY visiting SUNNY together. BASIL would actually visit at different hours for some reason, so that was why she saw less of him during this point.

AUBREY tried… she really really really tried to keep herself together…

But seeing her best friend on that bed, over and over and over, again and again and again, with no signs of change or waking up for two years- She couldn't take it anymore.

She had to stop visiting or else she'd literally go insane.

And MARI… Well…

She loved the poor girl, but AUBREY didn't really want to go see MARI either ever since… She knew that MARI would just ask AUBREY to go visit SUNNY again.

MARI never wanted to do anything else. She never wanted to go outside and play, she never wanted to do sleepovers, she never did ANYTHING else. All she ever did was visit SUNNY, and then stay locked up in her house when she couldn't.

Looking into her bedroom mirror, she absentmindedly twirled a finger around her pink hair.

She wondered if MARI ever remembered the promise they made to dye their hair together. AUBREY was pink, and MARI was supposed to be purple.

No, MARI probably forgot all about her at this point in life. SUNNY was the only thing that mattered in her mind now.

AUBREY ran her fingers through her hair, her mood dampened from thinking about how much MARI had changed from the sweet older girl she used to be to the lonely hermit she was now.

Then her eyes were drawn in by a picture frame next to her bed.

A photo of her and her friend KIM, posing together after AUBREY just got her hair dyed.

Seeing that brought a smile to her face as she remembered how they first met.

Four years ago...

She had run away from the hospital to get away from SUNNY, didn't she? She was crying, and she didn't want to make a scene.

She didn't want to go back home, so she essentially decided to cry her heart out in the playground.

It was around this time where she truly felt alone. Nobody to talk to, nobody to comfort her, nobody to tell her that it would be okay.

HERO chose to go to college.

KEL had abandoned her and made other friends as replacements.

BASIL just lost his grandmother and wouldn't come out of his house.

MARI was unapproachable ever since she lost her little brother.

SUNNY was… gone. Just gone. And who knows when he'll ever be back, if he'll ever come back at all.

AUBREY was truly and utterly alone. When she realized this, she cried harder than she ever had before.

Until…

Um… Hey. Why're you crying?

KIM showed up in her life.


Four years ago…

"Is… Is this really a good idea?" AUBREY asked apprehensively as she held onto the wooden baseball bat that KIM just handed to her.

They were in a junkyard somewhere in FARAWAY. KIM was lining up random pieces of garbage in a straight line.

"Trust me! This is definitely going to help! I've done this countless times before, and I felt better after each time!" KIM reassured excitedly.

AUBREY remained unconvinced, both uncomfortable from the situation KIM placed her in and also by the horrible smell.

"My mom always tells me that being sad about something is only because you don't have any control over what's going on in your life! But being sad is unproductive and is only going to make things worse! So instead of lazing about, you should try to get yourself MAD instead. Like, REALLY angry. Then, all that pent-up energy could be used for something more productive and useful!" KIM explained. "It makes you feel like you have control over your life again!"

"Where did your mom learn about that?"

"From her anger management group or something." KIM casually waved off, "That's not the point though! The point is that, after some creative thinking on my end, I managed to figure out how to put her advice into practical use and eventually found out about this place here!" KIM organized the last pile of junk she could scrounge up and placed it alongside the rest of the other piles of garbage. "Whenever I get really sad or mad about something, I bring out my bat, and I PULVERIZE everything I see in sight to get me to feel better about myself."

"And you want me to do the same thing?" AUBREY asked worriedly.

"Yeah! It'll totally be rad!" KIM cheered on excitedly.

"But… I mean… I don't like being violent or angry though…" AUBREY muttered sheepishly.

Some memories of her parents screaming and arguing with each other in the middle of the night flashed into her mind, before she had to force it to go away.

"Don't be a scaredy-cat! Everyone likes being violent sometimes. They just don't want to be violent towards the things they care about." KIM encouraged her as she patted the garbage she set up, "But we can be as violent as we want without worrying about anyone getting hurt! So give it a go already! I promise you'll feel great after this."

AUBREY gulped nervously as she brought herself closer to the first garbage pile in front of her. KIM stepped back a few distances away, clearly eager to see her new friend rain carnage.

She brought the bat up to swinging position, even though AUBREY really didn't know what to do here or what she was expecting to happen. Does she… need to pretend that the garbage pile was a softball?

She liked to think she was good at softball. She remembered playing a few games during PE class and managed to get five consecutive home runs once.

She remembered the look in SUNNY's eye when she turned to see how he would react. The boy looked like he had stars in his eyes, and it was enough to get her to blush embarrassingly.

Reminding herself of SUNNY made her depressed again…

She couldn't muster up any strength in her swing, as the bat daintily bounced off the garbage pile like it was given a gentle love tap.

KIM from far away saw this and did her best to give an encouraging cheer, "Okay, that was great for a first attempt! Now do it again, but this time, hit it like you really really mean it!"

AUBREY sighed, "KIM, I don't really think this is going to work. I just don't feel like hitting stuff…"

Hearing this, KIM hummed to herself as she brought herself back into the field with AUBREY.

Taking a quick look at AUBREY's depressed stance and the garbage piles in front of them, KIM heavily brainstormed a solution before quickly coming to a eureka.

"Maybe you're just not in the right mindset! I can totally help with that!"

KIM stepped right behind AUBREY and forced her to face the garbage pile.

Talking directly behind her ear, KIM spoke, "First, I want you to look directly into this garbage pile. Are you looking at it?"

Not knowing what was happening but still compelled to play along, AUBREY timidly nodded.

"Now… Imagine the person you hate the most. Like really really really hate. Maybe it's some stupid bully from school, or maybe that one teacher that keeps giving you a bad grade. Whoever it is, I want you to really imagine them in front of you right now. Their stupid face. Their stupid voice. The reason why you hate them in the first place."

As KIM went along to describe this imaginary person, AUBREY began to think of KEL. Imagining his stupid face whenever he did something to make her angry. Imagining his whiny annoying voice whenever he teased her about something. The way he gave that annoying cocky smile whenever she couldn't prove him wrong or get back at him.

The way he just… left her. Left her to hang out with new friends. Abandoning everyone. Replacing everyone. As if nothing had ever happened.

Her grip on the baseball bat tightened.

"You thinking about them?" KIM asked.

AUBREY gave a frustrated nod.

"Good. Now imagine that stupid person is sitting right in front of you, where the junk pile is. They just said something stupid and mean to you, in front of your face! They're not even sorry about it either, they're just laughing at the way you're getting upset! God, they're so annoying!" KIM continued to feed into AUBREY's mind.

"That stupid KEL is always so annoying…!" AUBREY whispered under her breath.

KIM heard this and smiled, "That's right. Now, aim that bat straight at his face, AND SWING WITH ALL YOU GOT!"

At that, KIM immediately ran away to a safe distance as AUBREY brought her bat up again.

That idiot KEL! That stupid inconsiderate idiot KEL! Always doing whatever he wanted and never thinking about her feelings! AGH, he makes her so angry all the time! Whenever he opens his mouth to say something, it was like he was just purposely trying to get on her nerves!

She thought about KEL at that moment, standing right in front of her as she aimed her bat.

She thought about what would happen if she swung with all her might.

She thought about what KEL would look like right after.

Right as she was about to swing, she thought about KEL in the hospital. His head dented in. Bruised and injured. Wrapped in bandages. Sleeping on the hospital bed.

Never waking up ever again.

She hesitated at the last second and whiffed the shot.

The bat bounced softly off the ground, never even touching the garbage pile in the first place.

"The hell was that pussy shit?" KIM shouted out in shock.

AUBREY dropped the bat in frustration, and gave a sigh, "Don't say the p or s word… It's bad to swear..."

KIM came up behind her, "AUBREY, come on. What happened? I saw you getting so worked up just a second ago! Why did you fizzle out at the last possible moment?"

With a guilty frown, AUBREY looked away, "I was… I was thinking about one of my friends. He always makes me angry, sure, but… I mean, I didn't want to actually hurt him! He always gets on my nerves, but I didn't think he deserved to get his face caved in with a bat! It just seems so mean!"

KIM groaned exasperatedly as if she couldn't believe she was stuck with such a soft-hearted girl.

"I'm sorry… I know you're just trying to help…" AUBREY felt the need to apologize.

"No no, this is my fault." KIM waved away, "I'm the one that's going about this wrong. Obviously, different people have different problems. The things that work for me might not work for you." KIM hummed in thought again as she had another brainstorm session in her mind.

After a while, AUBREY got startled when KIM suddenly shouted with another idea.

"I GOT IT!" KIM clapped her hands excitedly, before returning to her position behind AUBREY again, "Instead of thinking of a person, why not think of an idea instead?"

AUBREY was confused, repeating unsurely, "An idea…?"

"Okay, bear with me." Making AUBREY face the garbage pile again and putting the bat back in her hands, KIM continued, "Think about all the problems that are going on in your life right now. Everything, literally anything that has ever made your life horrible. Think of all the things that have ever gone wrong, and you couldn't do anything to stop it."

AUBREY closed her eyes and thought about it.

KEL abandoning her so that she could be replaced with new friends.

BASIL losing his grandma and not wanting to come out of the house.

MARI becoming sad and depressed, never wanting to play with her anymore.

SUNNY never waking up.

Her dad divorcing her mom, leaving them to live by themselves in that rotten trash heap of a house.

AUBREY being left alone.

"Imagine… what if all those things that happened, it wasn't just bad luck? What if someone was out there, a person that was making all these bad things happen on purpose?"

A… a person? Making all of this happen on purpose?

"Why would they do that?" AUBREY asked in distraught, her eyes still closed.

"Because they want to see you suffer."

AUBREY imagined a silhouette of a person standing right in front of her.

"They did all of that because they wanted to see you cry."

No features. No descriptions. No face. Just a shadow of a person.

"They want to ruin your life. They want to make you sad. They're the reason why you can't ever be happy anymore." KIM kept going.

"But why…? Why me?!" AUBREY trembled, gripping tightly onto her bat. "Why my friends?!"

"Because they thought it would be funny." KIM continued, standing back a bit as she noticed AUBREY shivering in place. "They could have chosen anyone else in the world to do this too, but instead they decided to do it to you because they were bored. They just wanted to screw with you, screw with your life, never leave you alone, because they just love making you cry and suffer."

AUBREY could see the malicious smile on the shadow's face. Like it was mocking her.

"I hate you…!" AUBREY muttered.

"They don't care. They love watching you get upset. They love following you around and making your life a living hell."

The smile became more evil and malicious as AUBREY kept imagining it.

"Leave me alone!" AUBREY was practically seething at this point.

"What are you going to do if they don't? They know you're not gonna do anything to them. They can do whatever they want."

"I never did anything to you to deserve this!" AUBREY almost sobbed out.

She could almost hear the shadow in front of her laughing at her face.

"They don't care. It's fun." KIM continued, "And they'll keep doing it, again and again. Forever."

AUBREY imagined the shadow, ruining her life.

She imagined the shadow standing behind KEL, whispering fake rumors about her in order to convince him to leave.

She imagined the shadow being the reason why BASIL's grandmother died, forcing him to stay inside his house.

She imagined the shadow bullying MARI, mocking her for losing her little brother.

AUBREY imagined this shadow following her for almost her entire life, being the sole reason why her dad lost her job. Why they had to move away from her old town and lived in that stupid trash heap of a house. Why her parents kept arguing and never stopped. Why her dad divorced her mom and abandoned them.

AUBREY imagined that this shadow was the reason why she was all alone.

AUBREY imagined the shadow attacking SUNNY by pushing him down the stairs.

The shadow grinned at her, as if confirming this was all true.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUGH!"

AUBREY became FURIOUS.

KIM was already far away by the time AUBREY swung her bat.

Again and again and again, AUBREY kept swinging her bat at the imaginary shadow in her mind, breaking the pile of junk in front of her into smithereens. AUBREY screamed out all of her frustrations and anger and hatred, destroying the garbage without mercy.

She didn't stop there. All that pent-up rage and sadness was too much for AUBREY to handle, so after she was done with the first pile, she immediately went after another.

KIM watched on as AUBREY demolished everything in her path with the wooden bat in her hands, impressed at the display of violence.

"It's your fault! Everything was your fault!" AUBREY screamed in rage, swinging non-stop at the imaginary shadow in her mind, "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HAAAATE YOOOOOOUU!"

KIM continued to let AUBREY throw her tantrum for as long as she needed. Even when all the piles of trash she set up became nothing more than rubble and broken glass. Even as the evening turned dark. Even as there was nothing left in sight for AUBREY to break anymore.

With one last final swing of the last unbroken bottle at her feet, AUBREY screamed at the top of her lungs the last bit of her frustrations to the night sky and the moon above.

After that, AUBREY finally gained control of herself as she started gasping heavily. Dropping the bat and falling to her knees, AUBREY continued to suck in as much air as possible as her stamina was completely drained out.

Seeing that she was done, KIM slowly walked up to the girl and crouched right beside her.

"So, how does it feel?" KIM asked knowingly.

Although AUBREY knew that her problems weren't solved and that the imaginary shadow she made up wasn't real, she said hoarsely, "Good… It felt good…"

"Does it feel better than crying?"

Her body was weak and sore everywhere. Her arms felt like they could pop right off at any second. Her lungs were on fire. Her heart was working overtime, beating heavily in her chest like a steam-powered train engine.

She felt so tired…

"Yeah…" AUBREY nodded satisfyingly, "It is."

KIM stayed with AUBREY until she felt all better. They continued hanging out in the junkyard under the night sky, even when it became waaaay past their usual bedtime.

AUBREY, now having since calmed down, gratefully handed KIM back the bat, "Thanks, KIM. I really do feel a lot better now."

KIM glanced at the bat a bit before turning away, "Keep it. It's yours."

"What?" AUBREY asked with a bit of surprise. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, dude." KIM nodded, "Honestly, I rarely ever use that bat anymore anyway. You might find better use out of it than I ever could."

AUBREY looked down at the bat in her hands.

"But… I feel bad just taking it from you…"

"Nah, don't think like that." KIM waved away, before smiling, "Think of it as a gift. Proof that you and I are friends now."

"F… Friends…?" AUBREY asked hesitantly, as if the word was alien to her.

"Duh, of course!" KIM chuckled, "After what we went through today, we now share a bond that nobody else could ever have."

A friend… She had felt like she was alone for so long… and now she had a friend again.

She could feel tears swelling up in her eyes for some reason.

Unlike before, they weren't sad tears though…

Clutching the bat closely to her chest, AUBREY whispered softly, "Thank you…"


AUBREY still had that bat, now that she thought about it.

Standing up from her seat, she went over to the closet in her room and opened it up.

Inside was a small collection of her clothes, random knick-knacks of her childhood, and most importantly- a broken bat that was split in half tucked away in the corner.

Yep, there it was. The same bat that KIM gave her all those years ago.

Broke it during her first fight with a rival gang from the neighboring town. KIM ended up buying her a new bat to commemorate AUBREY's promotion as the unchallenged leader of the newly formed SCOOTER GANG.

Oh man, those were the days.

AUBREY definitely didn't start out as a delinquent when she first began hanging around KIM. No, KIM was absolutely a bad influence on her.

She had to laugh at an old memory of back when she committed her first crime.

AUBREY had decided on a whim to want to get her hair dyed pink, but she didn't have the money to afford it. Lamenting this situation to her friend one day, the side-shaved girl had this brilliant idea to steal it from the local OTHERMART.

"You want to steal it? But isn't stealing bad?"

"Nah, dude. OTHERMART is a huge multi-conglomerate corporation owned by a bunch of evil rich fat-cats. We're not stealing from innocent people, we're just stealing some hair dye from some soulless rich douchebags who could easily afford replacing it anyway."

Heh, AUBREY definitely inherited a lot of her rebellious personality from KIM.

That day, AUBREY had to act as a distraction by purposely bumping into a large pile of make-up boxes on display and crying about it when the employees showed up to check on her. Her acting skills weren't bad, as she actually managed to make some tears appear while apologizing about how clumsy she was and how she didn't mean to make a mess. While the employees were eating her act all up, KIM had ample time to steal what they came for and made out like a bandit.

Right after she finished dying her hair, the first thing they did to celebrate was to take a picture to commemorate their first successful heist together.

It was actually the day right after that one did KIM introduce her to her other friends.

Back before they called themselves the SCOOTER GANG, they mostly just knew themselves as the HOOLIGANS. Mostly because they loitered around FARAWAY, doing nothing but whatever that seems fun.

Despite her initial worries, they all seemed pretty accepting about her joining the group.

VANCE was KIM's older brother, so of course, she already had his approval. It just had to be earned by bribing him with a piece of taffy. KIM and VANCE were strangely obsessive about their sweet tooths.

MIKHAEL acted snobby at first (she refuses to acknowledge his preferred name) and even tried to flirt with her despite being obviously shorter and younger. After a bit of bullying from KIM though, MIKHAEL quickly changed his tune and graciously accepted her with open arms.

ANGEL wasn't that hard to convince either, since he agrees to whatever MIKHAEL says. For some reason, he treats the blonde-wigged boy with the respect and loyalty deserving of an idol. It was creepy, but she learned to get used to it.

CHARLIE was a bit of an enigma for her at first. She was so intimidatingly large and silent, AUBREY didn't know what to make of her. She actually thought CHARLIE was a boy at first before ANGEL corrected her. CHARLIE was actually CHARLENE, she just preferred the name CHARLIE as a nickname. After a bit of getting to know each other, CHARLIE gave a thumbs up to show her acceptance to the new member of the group.

This was going to be her new group of friends for the next four years of her life.

Even though they didn't always get along, AUBREY couldn't help but feel like they were her family. Despite their obvious quirks and flaws, they were a strangely tightly-knit group that was loyal to one another.

She never would have thought that, just a few months later, she'd end up being unanimously voted as leader of their gang.


Four years ago, a few months after meeting KIM...

"Hahaha!" A pretentiously handsome-looking teenager laughed mockingly towards the HOOLIGANS, "Is this really the best fight you could put up? You're nothing but a bunch of chumps!"

The HOOLIGANS were all beaten, defeated by the hands of a group of guys wearing biker jackets and sunglasses.

Laying at their feet, MIKHAEL mustered up the energy to scowl angrily, "You foul villains! What gives you the right to come here and beat us up?! We never did anything towards you!"

The group could only chuckle in response before the apparent leader smiled egotistically, "We told you already. We're the MOPED BOYS of SOMEWHERE High. We take what we want, and we ain't gonna stop until we get what we want." Leering down on the blond-wigged boy, the leader sneered, "And we told yous that we was gonna take FARAWAY's park for ourselves. Not our fault you five dumbasses decided to jump us when we told you to scram."

"You can't just take our park!" ANGEL shouted, struggling to pull himself up, "This park belongs to the public! Everyone is allowed in this park!"

Another guy, apparently the leader's right-hand man, came up to kick the small boy in the stomach.

ANGEL coughed up a storm as he held his stomach in pain, collapsing back down again.

"Well guess what? Since we're also part of the public, that means the park belongs to us. And as owners of the park, we officially announce that you lame-oes are banned from ever setting foot in it ever again."

"What the hell do a bunch of guys from a different school want with our park anyway?! What's wrong with the park in your neighborhood?!" KIM spat out, wiping a bloody nose while trying to see clearly out of her broken glasses.

"Whatsittoya?" The leader sneered, "We don't need a reason to do nothin'. We just like this park better than the one back home, and we wanna take it."

"You're not gonna get away with this, bastards!" VANCE groaned, nursing a bruise on his leg.

"Oh yeah? And who'd be stoppin' us? The cops?" At this, the entire group proceeded to laugh mockingly, "The cops don't care about a bunch of kids! And even if they do, we'll already be skedaddling out of here before anyone gets caught."

"Face it, dweebs. You guys ain't nothin'." The sub-leader taunted, "Now get out of our park, before we start getting really angry."

The HOOLIGANS felt a deep pit of shame in their stomachs as they realized they wouldn't be able to retaliate anytime soon. This mark of defeat would end up haunting them forever…

That is, until a certain girl showed up to witness the whole thing.

As she walked into the park, one by one, everyone started noticing the pink-haired girl just casually strolling into the fray as if it was all a part of the scenery.

The leader of the gang's eyes lit up, already taken in a trance, "Oooh, hello~! Who do we have here?"

"Yoooo, who's this pretty little dame?" One of the other gang members called out, with others whistling.

Huh, AUBREY didn't realize she'd have that kind of reaction on guys. MARI had always told her that she was cute, and so did BASIL often enough…She didn't really think it'd ever come to use in a situation like this though.

"AUBREY, don't! They're too many of them!" KIM warned, her face still covered to stop her bleeding nose.

"AUBREY, huh?" The gang leader repeated to himself, before giving a smug smile, "A pretty name for a pretty girl. So, what are you doing around here? Don't tell me you're actually friends with these bozos on the floor, eh?"

As AUBREY got closer to the gang leader, she began sizing him up.

Seeing this, the leader started flexing, "Like what you see? Can't blame ya."

After studying him for a while, AUBREY dropped her bat on the ground and got even closer to him. Intimately close.

AUBREY had a sweet smile on her face as she got face to face with the gang leader and began wrapping her arms around his neck.

This was actually enough to get the gang leader to start blushing nervously. The gang members behind started whispering scandalously, wondering what was going on.

"Y-Y-Y-You… uh… You're getting pretty touchy there, g-girlie." The gang leader stuttered.

The HOOLIGANS had absolutely no idea how to react to what was happening, too shocked to even react properly.

AUBREY tilted her head in a cutesy manner.

"You put up a decent act, but when it comes down to it, you're all talk. Aren't ya?"

"W-Wha-" The gang leader could barely get the word out before he suddenly saw stars.

AUBREY had reared her head back and suddenly slammed it right into the guy's nose, launching him back a few feet away.

Instant knockout.

AUBREY bent down to grab her baseball bat as everyone went speechless.

It took them a moment to process what just happened, before one of them shouted out, "BOSS!"

The sub-leader finally wrapped his head around the fact that their leader was down, before coming up to her with violent intentions, "You got a lotta nerve taking down our boss, you little twerp!"

AUBREY didn't respond verbally, instead choosing to knock his teeth out by swinging her bat into his face.

"AGH, FACK! MAH MOUTH- SHE HIT MAH MOUTH-" The guy sprawled back, blood gushing out of his mouth. He spent the next few moments rolling around in pain before begging, "Someone! Geth me ah mirrah! I needs ah mirrah! I can'th askx JUDY outh if I'm uglyyy!"

All the other gang members recoiled in fear and shock at how easily both of their leaders went down so quickly.

AUBREY brought their attention back by slamming her bat to the ground, causing it to make a loud crack as it began splintering in half.

Pointing the nearly broken bat at them, AUBREY coldly asked, "Anyone else wants a piece of this pretty looking dame?"

Nobody jumped at the opportunity. Everyone stayed silent, except their sub-leader who was still rolling around on the floor in agony.

"No?" AUBREY asked with a tilt of her head. Then, with the meanest glare she could muster, she screamed, "THEN GET OUT OF HERE!"

"Holy shit, this girl is a psycho…!" She could hear them talk amongst themselves. "I don't want to deal with no crazy bat lady! I'm out!" "Yeah, same!" "Screw this place! Y'all are all insane!"

The demoralized MOPED BOYS retreated back to their mopeds, carrying their leaders as they sped away from the town. Never to be seen again.

AUBREY gave a sigh of relief. Shit, that was tense. She never had to act that scary before in her life. Thank god they were all convinced by it.

"AUBREY, holy shit! You actually beat them!"

AUBREY turned around to see KIM gleaming excitedly at her with stars in her eyes.

"That was a splendid, amazingly, stupendous, superflendiforous display!" MIKHAEL complimented earnestly in his own usual way, "I, THE MAVERICK, am completely in awe at your strength!"

"Holy cow, AUBREY! You're just as good as the MASTER! Maybe even better!" ANGEL cheered excitedly, still holding onto his stomach.

VANCE struggled to get up, so he instead stayed sitting but looked up at AUBREY with admiration, "That was some impressive batting skills, you crazy chick! You landed him square in the jaw! I bet we could even find that guy's teeth if we took the time to look for it!"

CHARLIE nodded silently with a bruised eye, showing her respects.

All this positive attention on AUBREY was starting to overwhelm her, as she couldn't help but blush from the praises, "I mean, I didn't really do anything that impressive. I was just trying to scare them away."

"Are you kidding me?! Dude, I wish I had that level of confidence!" KIM gushed, "You were walking up all slow-like, trying to act all flirty and cute, then all of a sudden- BAM- You knocked that guy out in a single hit! It was so cool- GOD I am so turned on right now!"

VANCE made a disgusted look, "Ew, KIM. Too much information."

KIM looked back annoyed, "Oh shut up, VANCE, I'm too busy fangirling to care!"

"Anybody else want a piece of this pretty looking dame?" MIKHAEL repeated AUBREY's earlier words, playing out the scene again with ANGEL.

"Oh noes, please don't hurt us! We're just a bunch of babies! We surrenderrrr!" ANGEL fake cried, overwhelmed by the might of MIKHAEL acting as AUBREY.

"Jeez guys, c'mon… You're embarrassing me…" AUBREY muttered awkwardly.

KIM was suddenly at her side, wrapping an arm around her shoulder as they both faced the group together.

"Welp, I think this settles our earlier debate. Wouldn't you say, guys?" KIM announced.

"Oh, definitely. She'd be perfect for the role." VANCE nodded.

"No objections from THE MAVERICK!" MIKHAEL posed.

"If the MASTER agrees, then I do too!" ANGEL fist pumped.

CHARLIE gave a thumbs up.

AUBREY looked at them with confusion. "Wait, what? Debate? Perfect for what?" Looking between the five of her friends, she asked them, "What are you guys talking about?"

"For the past few months, me and the guys have been thinking about doing something about the recent problems that's been plaguing our town." KIM explained, "Lately, FARAWAY town has been in trouble by a bunch of assholes popping up from different towns, coming here and causing mayhem."

"Lots of kids around here have been getting bullied, mugged, or even just scared off by these out-of-town gangs. You just saw a perfect example of what they look like and how they act firsthand." VANCE continued.

"Each one of us has been a victim of their evildoings for far too long! That is why I, THE MAVERICK, alongside the others here, have decided to form a vigilante group in order to stop their evildoings once and for all!"

"Yeah! We're sick and tired of having to deal with these jerks coming into our town like they own the place!" ANGEL added, "The stupid police won't do anything serious about them since they're just kids, but they're causing serious damage to everyone we care about!"

"One of them pushed my mom down the sidewalk while she was on her way to get her meds..." CHARLIE solemnly stated.

KIM continued on, "We're not called the HOOLIGANS because we're just a random group of friends that are trying to be special. We call ourselves that because we're trying to be our own gang to build up a reputation. This way, we can protect the town by making the other gangs start to fear us, leaving FARAWAY alone."

"It's been a downhill battle so far." VANCE sighed, "We've never managed to be a serious threat to any of these jerks, so none of them ever take us seriously." VANCE pointed to the bruises and injuries on his body, "And as you can see, we're not doing too well with the job of protecting either."

"If it wasn't for those villains catching me off guard, THE MAVERICK would have totally pwned those losers!" MIKHAEL lamented, nursing his wounds. "Alas, what we make up for in numbers and strength, we still find ourselves lacking proper leadership and coordination skills."

"So for the past few days, we've been thinking about rebranding ourselves with a different gang name. One that people can hear about on the streets and take it seriously." KIM further explained, "But we've been holding off on that until we could find someone that could properly lead us."

"Which is where we decided that you come in." VANCE finally managed to get himself to stand up, walking up to the other side of AUBREY and slapping a hand on her back.

AUBREY, still confused by the sudden info-dumping, had her eyes bug out as she incredulously asked, "W-Wait, what? Me? What about me?"

"As much as I, THE MAVERICK, hate to admit it," MIKHAEL started off with a dejected sigh, "I possess none of the qualities that would make for a great leader. In a role of a typical Shonen Jump manga, I would fit better as the Lancer of the group, or as the main protagonist's destined rival who also works together with him against the final villain of the series."

Ignoring MIKHAEL, KIM admitted sheepishly, "Yeah, it sucks to say, but we have absolutely no idea what we're doing. Which is why we think you'd make a perfect fit as our brand new leader!"

AUBREY, now that she was slowly caught up with the situation but still overwhelmed, pulled herself out of KIM's grasp and stepped back a bit.

"Hold on, guys. Look, I get what you guys are doing, and I honestly think it's pretty cool. But are you seriously suggesting that I should be your new leader?" AUBREY asked nervously, "I mean… I've only joined the group a few months ago. Plus, I'm only just now hearing about this whole thing about gangs and whatever. I don't really think I'm ready or even cut out to be a leader for something this serious."

"Aw c'mon, AUBREY!" KIM argued back encouragingly, "You just gotta believe in yourself! We saw firsthand how cool you are! There's no way you can't NOT be our leader!"

"As much as a low bar we represent, you are clearly the better fighter in our group. We'd rather have someone like that at least teach us how to fight better, at the very least." VANCE joined in too.

"Don't be intimidated by the fact that you're the newest member of the group! None of us have been doing this for too long either. In fact, the HOOLIGANS have only been around for a month before you joined us!" ANGEL reassured.

"Man, we really need to change that name…" MIKHAEL sighed, "I've been against it from the start. It just doesn't sound as cool as any of my ideas, like the BLACKSTARS- or maybe GHOSTRAIDERS- or even something like THE MAVERICK'S MAVERICKS!"

KIM continued, "Seriously AUBREY, at least consider it? Every fight we've ever engaged in, we've never won even once. But then all it took for us to turn the tables on those moped guys was for you to show up and teach those guys who's boss! I really think you being our leader would turn out for the better!"

AUBREY looked at all of her friends as they all gazed upon her with pleading desperate eyes.

KIM even had to put in an extra convincing, "Pweaaaaase?" for good measure.

This was a bit much for her, to be honest. She wasn't expecting her new friend group to put her on the spot over something like this. She wasn't even sure how realistic their plan about protecting the town from rival gangs was.

Still, they were all clearly relying on her… It had been a long time since she ever felt like she was part of a group…

And honestly? If it wasn't for KIM finding her in that playground that day, AUBREY probably...

She'd probably still be all alone…

AUBREY gave a resigned sigh as she looked away from their puppy dog eyes, "ALRIGHT, alright already. Stop looking at me with those doe eyes, you're gonna make me puke."

The group held in their breaths with trepidation.

"I'll give it a shot, at the very least. Besides, I'm pretty sure I owe you one, KIM. So I don't really have the option to say no to you." AUBREY chuckled.

"YES! WOO!" KIM cheered happily like she just won the lottery.

VANCE gave a relieved sigh, "Phew, I'm glad. I didn't know what we would have done if you said no…"

"I entrust myself in your care, AUBREY- No!" MIKHAEL paused for a bit with dramatic flair, before correcting himself, "THE BOSS."

"Ooh, I like that! If the MASTER calls you THE BOSS, then that means you're going to be THE BOSS, boss!" ANGEL concurred excitedly.

CHARLIE nodded silently and smiled.

Aw jeez, what the hell did AUBREY just sign up for herself? She hoped she wouldn't come to regret this anytime soon...

KIM, after ample amounts of cheering done, immediately moved on to the next part of her plan, "Great! Now that we have a new leader, we can finally get started on thinking of a new name for our gang!"

"What shall we call ourselves, I wonder?" VANCE hummed in thought.

"FISTS OF JUSTICE?" MIKHAEL began listing off, unaware that everyone else was ignoring him, "BLACK SPIDER? PAINKILLERS? Ooh, what about the original plan to call us THE MAVERICK'S MAVERICKS?!"

"Mmm… I'm not really good at coming up names, to be honest…" ANGEL lamented.

As the whole gang proceeded to think themselves to death over what to call themselves, AUBREY noticed CHARLIE twiddling her fingers together like a shy schoolgirl.

"You got something to say, CHARLIE?" AUBREY called her out, knowing she might be too reserved to speak up first.

Everyone else stopped in their ramblings to turn their attention to the usually silent giant of the group.

CHARLIE had a faint blush, but suggesting, "...SCOOTER GANG…"

"Huh? Did you just say SCOOTER GANG?" KIM asked confusedly.

CHARLIE nodded, before pointing to the pile of scooters parked haphazardly near the entrance of the park.

"Those guys earlier called themselves MOPED BOYS. That must mean every other gang does something similar with their names. We have scooters. SCOOTER GANG." CHARLIE explained her reasoning.

It took a moment for the idea to settle in their heads. Then, they all collectively brightened up at the idea.

"That's not half bad! We can call ourselves the SCOOTER GANG!" KIM agreed wholeheartedly.

"Yeah, I can see that working out for us… I like it!" VANCE agreed as well.

"Ah yes, I can see it now!" MIKHAEL envisioned, "We ride down the middle of the street on our scooters in V formation, with THE BOSS taking the lead. The sun setting behind us, villains cower in terror over the almighty visage towering above them menacingly. They all whisper in fear and awe amongst themselves… The SCOOTER GANG!"

"It's simple but memorable! Even if someone forgets who we are, all they have to do is see us riding on our scooters, and that'd be enough to jog their memory!" ANGEL nodded along.

As everyone agreed amongst themselves about the new name change, AUBREY had an embarrassed smile on her face that did not go unnoticed by KIM.

"AUBREY, sup?" KIM asked.

"So, uh… This might disappoint you guys, but I only own a bike." AUBREY chuckled nervously to herself, "I don't think I could afford to get a scooter either. The name is cool and all, but would it really be okay if the supposed leader of the SCOOTER GANG went without a scooter of her own?"

KIM shrugged, "I don't see a problem. In fact, it seems fitting to be honest."

At that, AUBREY became confused again.

VANCE agreed, "Yeah, I can see where she's coming from. The SCOOTER GANG members all ride on their scooters, but only the leader gets to ride a bike. It's a great way to show the difference in status."

"It's only fair that THE BOSS has special privileges in her own gang." MIKHAEL added in. "When you show up in fights, the other gang will know then that things are about to get serious!"

AUBREY rubbed her neck awkwardly, unsure as to what to say.

With nothing else to really add to the conversation, she could only shrug in acceptance, "Okay then. I guess I'm now the leader of the SCOOTER GANG. Without a scooter."

The SCOOTER GANG cheered together to celebrate their new name.


Good memories…

AUBREY fondly recollected the years that transpired.

Turns out, what KIM said about gangs from other towns messing with FARAWAY was true. Patrolling the town with her gang, she witnessed countless delinquents messing up the streets of her neighborhood. It was a crime that would not go unpunished.

Every time she and the others witnessed a crime happening from these other gangs, they'd immediately go on the offensive to teach them a lesson.

With AUBREY's surprisingly decent leadership skills, they were organized enough to stand a chance against most groups, driving them out of town with their tails stuck between their legs.

Over time, her gang's reputation started growing more and more as they repelled every single attempt at a gang moving in on their territory. She had become so popular that people unaware of the gang problem had started knowing her.

Unfortunately, that started bad rumors about her and her friends. Instead of being known as the protectors of the town, they were vilified as much as the other gangs instead. It seems a lot of people just don't like the idea of a bunch of rowdy high schoolers going around picking fights in their town.

Whatever though, it doesn't matter. The SCOOTER GANG wasn't protecting the town for the praise or publicity. They were doing it because no one else was willing to do it for them.

She wondered how her old friend group might have thought about her if they could see her now… Would they know that she was just doing her best to help the community? Or would they assume the worst and think she was no better than the gangs that were bullying the people?

Guess it didn't matter.

AUBREY brought her nailed bat up and gave a few practice swings. This was the bat that KIM and the others bought for her after the old one broke. She put nails on it to make herself seem more intimidating than she actually was. She never actually used it in a real fight though, but nobody was stupid enough to come near her to find out if she was willing to use it.

Swing.

Swing.

Swing.

HERO would be too busy with college to care about her.

KEL had already abandoned her, so there's no point in worrying about what he thinks.

MARI was too focused on obsessing over SUNNY to pay her any attention.

SUNNY…

SUNNY probably won't ever wake up…

She didn't have to worry about BASIL though. AUBREY already had the opportunity to tell the truth to him, and he's actually been quite supportive despite the violent nature of it all.

Remembering it now, she was actually quite shocked to see the flower boy outside his house for the first time. She had truly thought that BASIL would become a reclusive shut-in after his grandma died, just like MARI did after losing SUNNY.

She was glad to know that wasn't the case…


Three years ago…

AUBREY could only stare in shock at the sight before her.

There he was, an old relic of the past, coming back into her life again after god knows how long since they stopped.

"Get out of here, blondy!" ANGEL was shouting, kicking a defenseless flower boy as he cowered in fear, "This is our secret hideout! You're not welcome here!"

"If you don't get out of here soon, I, THE MAVERICK, will teach you a lesson you'll never forget!" MIKHAEL shouted too, posing dramatically to impose dominance.

BASIL didn't run away then. Instead, he just kept sucking in all the punches and kicks with a strained face, "But this place means something special to me! You can't just keep this place for yourselves! It's not fair to the people who've been here before!"

"MASTER, this guy is a real toughie." ANGEL said tiredly, losing his breath after countless attempts to kick him, "Should we try to get KIM or VANCE to help?"

"No need, my young apprentice!" MIKHAEL reassured, "I've already sent a message to THE BOSS! She'll be on her way to help deal with this pestering villain!"

Being reminded that she existed, AUBREY snapped out of her daze and ran up to the three boys, "Hey! What's going on here?!"

"Haha, exactly on cue too!" MIKHAEL laughed triumphantly, "You're going to get it now, you girly-looking boy!"

The two stepped away from BASIL as AUBREY approached.

BASIL nervously looked up to see the new girl arrive, quivering in fear as he didn't recognize her.

AUBREY felt chills in her bones as she saw the bruises and marks on BASIL's face. She couldn't help but gulp nervously, knowing that this was indirectly her fault.

"THE BOSS! You arrived just in time!" ANGEL cheered proudly, "We caught this snooping jerk scouting our secret hideout! He was looking around the place like a detective looking for evidence!"

"I have reasons to suspect that this guy here might be a spy for an enemy gang, trying to gather information on us!" MIKHAEL explained.

"I-I told you, I'm not! I'm not part of any stupid gang, I was just here because this place holds special memories for me!" BASIL defended himself, before pleading to AUBREY, "Please Miss, they listen to you, right? Tell them to stop! I promise I'm not doing anything wrong! This place used to be my friend's favorite spot too! That's all!"

Oh, BASIL…

With a soft look, AUBREY crouched down in front of him and gave him a gentle reassuring hug.

BASIL's body stiffened up in response from the touch, not expecting the close contact from this girl he didn't even know.

For him, it was a pleasant touch though. A bit familiar too, but he couldn't place why.

ANGEL and MIKHAEL gave each other confused looks as their boss was hugging the boy they were attacking moments ago.

"Er… You think she's just setting him up for her special move?" ANGEL asked quietly, motioning his body to mimic a headbutt.

MIKHAEL could only shrug unsurely, unable to provide an answer.

After a moment of hugging, AUBREY pulled back with a regretful frown, "I'm sorry, BASIL. This is my fault…"

BASIL could only blink in shock at the apology, before slowly furrowing his brows as he looked closer at her features. Then he slowly seemed to recognize her as he whispered, "...AUBREY…?"

"You two…" AUBREY stood up to turn her attention to the other two, "are such idiots!"

Both ANGEL and MIKHAEL jumped in fright from hearing their boss raise her voice at them.

Stomping over to them, she grabbed the scruff of their necks and pulled them closer, "What the hell makes you guys think this guy is a spy?! Have you even looked at him?! He's skinnier than bone, timid as all hell, and he wears a flower clip on his head! What about that screams enemy gang member?! Are you both blind?!"

MIKHAEL and ANGEL could only stammer in fear.

"The worst part of it all, you just started attacking him for no reason!" AUBREY continued, her face contorting further into rage, "Since when did the SCOOTER GANG attack random people?! We don't start the fights, we're supposed to end them! If all we did was pick random fights with bystanders, we'd be no better than the gangs attacking FARAWAY!"

AUBREY proceeded to grab both of their heads and slam them both into each other, causing them to grunt in pain and hold onto their heads.

"Idiots…!" AUBREY sighed in frustration.

The two members of the SCOOTER gang continued writhing all over the floor, giving her enough time to compose herself and face BASIL again.

Reaching out a hand for her old friend, she asked in concern, "Can you still stand?"

BASIL was still in dumbfounded shock as he was still processing the girl in front of him to be AUBREY. Taking her hand and steadily standing up, he could only stare at the pink-haired girl.

"Sorry about those two... I hope they didn't hurt you too badly." AUBREY said softly, checking up on his injuries. "Thank goodness those two aren't the bruisers in our group. Looks like it's nothing too serious-"

BASIL interrupted her when he suddenly launched himself at her with a full-on hug, "AUBREY, it is you! I've been looking for you everywhere!"

Now it was AUBREY's turn to be in shock.

BASIL was… looking for her?

Pulling away from the hug, BASIL happily told AUBREY, "I was so worried about you! I couldn't find you at school, I couldn't find you in the neighborhood, I didn't even know where you lived- I thought you moved away from FARAWAY town when I wasn't looking!" Running a gentle hand through her hair, he continued with a relieved laugh, "No wonder why I couldn't find you! You completely changed your look! I couldn't recognize you with the new hair and the different eye color! If I had known sooner that this was what you looked like now, I would have had an easier time spotting you out!" Resuming his hug again, he buried his face into her shoulder, "God, I missed you so much!"

AUBREY felt her eyes swelling up again as she unconsciously hugged BASIL back.

This whole time… This whole time, BASIL had been looking for her.

And she never even knew.

She just assumed that BASIL would… he would abandon her like everyone else did…

God, she was… she was so stupid and naive to think that… BASIL was one of her first friends in this town outside their old friend group… Of course, he'd never abandoned her…

She could feel her breathing getting hitched as she slowly started growing emotional at the reunion.

BASIL noticed this and called out to her in concern, "AUBREY? You okay?"

Not wanting to worry the flower boy any longer, AUBREY quickly composed herself before she could let any tears fall out. Pulling away with a gentle smile, she shook her head, "Don't worry. I'm all good. If anything, I'm just worried about you."

"Nah, these guys didn't hurt too bad." BASIL chuckled warmly, "I'm a lot tougher than I look at first glance, you know?"

Well, that was a surprise for her. BASIL was never the type to man up from personal injuries before. He was usually frail and easily sensitive. She remembered him crying over the simplest paper cut in school...

Just behind her, she could hear her two underlings recovering from their wounds as they both struggled to stand up.

"Okay… Clearly, I, THE MAVERICK, have made a grave error in assessing the situation…" MIKHAEL groaned, before asking "So, if you don't mind… Who is this guy and why are you both so friendly with each other?"

AUBREY sighed, turning around to face the idiots as she explained, "This is BASIL, a friend from my past. From before I joined the SCOOTER GANG."

Then she gestured towards the lake right beyond them.

"Before this place was the secret hideout of the SCOOTER GANG, it used to be the secret hideout of my old friends. BASIL came here because he was probably trying to remember old memories from before our group split up." AUBREY's eyes turned hard again towards the two boys, "Let me make it clear again that he is not an enemy gang member. Capische?"

"Crystal." ANGEL and MIKHAEL nodded nervously.

"Good. Now, on your hands and knees." AUBREY commanded.

The two boys looked at her in confusion.

AUBREY tapped her shoulder as she waited, before growing impatient, "Did I stutter? Hands and knees, now!"

MIKHAEL and ANGEL did not need to be told thrice, already in position.

BASIL awkwardly scratched his neck, unsure what to expect.

AUBREY walked over to stand right behind them, before commanding, "Apologize to BASIL for attacking him. Make it sincere, or else I'll make sure you'll both apologize correctly next time through the end of a tube!"

Under threat, both MIKHAEL and ANGEL proceeded to bow in unison, "WE'RE SORRY, PLEASE ACCEPT OUR APOLOGIES!"

"WE BEG FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS, INNOCENT STRANGER!"

"I, THE MAVERICK, WAS TRULY IN THE WRONG FOR ATTACKING ONE OF THE BOSS'S OLD FRIENDS!"

BASIL felt a sweat drop from his brow, overwhelmed by the sudden one-eighty from his attackers.

Feeling guilty over the fact that they were feeling guilty, BASIL quickly waved them down, "N-No, it's fine! You don't have to apologize, really! I'm sure you both were just defending what you thought was important because this place means so much to you!"

Both MIKHAEL and ANGEL looked up in surprise, fully expecting one of THE BOSS's friends to be as tough and cruel as she was when it came to dealing out punishment.

Crouching down to their level, BASIL smiled warmly, "If anything, I actually have to thank you both! If it wasn't for me running into you guys here, you would have never called AUBREY to come meet me! I wouldn't have ever been able to figure out who or where she was if it wasn't for you two!" Pulling up a hand from each of them, BASIL gratefully held onto them tightly, "Thank you so much for helping me reunite with AUBREY again!"

MIKHAEL and ANGEL could only gape in awe at the kindness of the flower boy. In their minds, they could practically see the angel wings protruding from his back and a halo above his head as he exuded so much innocence and purity.

"So kind…!" ANGEL muttered.

"So pure…!" MIKHAEL followed up.

"Nothing like THE BOSS!" They cried together.

AUBREY rolled her eyes, "Ugh. I'm literally standing right here."

MIKHAEL and ANGEL proceeded to bow down again, not out of fear this time, but out of sheer compassion.

"WE'RE SO SORRY WE EVER DOUBTED YOU, BASIL! PLEASE FORGIVE USSS!"

BASIL blinked confusedly for a bit, before turning to AUBREY and innocently asking, "Did I say something wrong?"

AUBREY couldn't help but chuckle to herself.


AUBREY gratefully looked through her second photo album, looking through the memories that she was able to capture with her SCOOTER GANG. BASIL suggested that she should get an album for herself so that she could hold onto the memories of her new friends.

Even though her old friends were gone from her life, she was so grateful for the fact that she still at least had BASIL sticking around.

She finally had someone to talk to about the problems she had with her old friend group, the depression she suffered from it, and the loneliness she felt when she thought she was abandoned by everyone. BASIL listened to everything she said with patience and understanding, before making her feel all the better in his own special way.

God, she was so happy that BASIL managed to move on peacefully from his grandma's death. She was so worried that BASIL would end up like MARI since she was the only other person she knew at the time to have lost a family member close to her.

She still had hopes and dreams that maybe one day, her old friend group could be reunited again and they would all have another picnic somewhere in the future… But she knew realistically that this might never be possible.

BASIL seemed convinced otherwise though, continuing to reassure her that SUNNY will definitely wake up one day and that things will go back to the way they used to be. Always the optimist, that boy. In a way, AUBREY was completely jealous that he could still look her in the eye and tell her that so seriously and genuinely.

She wanted to believe that SUNNY would wake up someday… But her heart just couldn't muster the willpower to actually believe it…

It would make life so much better if he did. She missed him so much, even after all these years.

But after waiting for so long, AUBREY just couldn't hold onto that hope anymore like BASIL could. The sooner she accepted the fact that she'll never see SUNNY again, the better it would be for her so that she could move on…

AUBREY's eyes widened as she just remembered something important.

Looking at the calendar in her room, she saw the day was drawing extremely near.

July 20. SUNNY's birthday… It was going to be tomorrow.

One day left until SUNNY's birthday… How old was he going to be this year? Eighteen? Same age as her, huh…

SUNNY… She would have liked to have known what SUNNY looked like all grown up as an adult. He would have been rather dashing, she was sure…

If the accident never happened and SUNNY was still with her, she wondered how differently her life would have played out…

She would like to think that she would still have met up with KIM somehow. AUBREY probably wouldn't have ever joined up with the SCOOTER GANG though, having no reason to since she wouldn't have been lonely if SUNNY was around to keep the old group together.

MARI wouldn't be the shut-in that she was now. If anything, MARI probably would have gone to highly prestigious places alongside HERO. They probably would have worked super hard in their fields to get their dream jobs and end up extremely famous. No doubt they would've gotten married sooner or later.

AUBREY, SUNNY, KEL, and BASIL would still hang out with each other since they were all around the same age as each other.

If things had played out smoothly enough, AUBREY might've eventually asked SUNNY out to be her boyfriend at some point in high school.

Dammit, why was she blushing all of a sudden? It was a realistic scenario to imagine if SUNNY was still around. There's no reason for her to act all girly and mushy over this…

Things will never play out that way, sadly…

SUNNY was gone…

AUBREY felt her mind remember back to when BASIL invited her out to his house to look through his photo album together…


Two years ago...

"You know…" BASIL brought up casually, "SUNNY has a crush on you."

AUBREY froze up from turning mid-page.

Her face became uncontrollably red as her brain was trying to process the words that BASIL just told her.

Eventually, AUBREY couldn't help but whimper out a small, "...what…?"

BASIL gave a guilty chuckle as he scratched his head, "I probably shouldn't have said that. I promised SUNNY that I wouldn't tell." Then he shrugged, "Oh well, it's been four years now. SUNNY would get over it if I told him."

"W-wait, back up a bit-" AUBREY was still wrapping her mind over this new information that suddenly came to light, "S-SUNNY had a crush… on me...?"

BASIL looked over to see a completely blushing AUBREY, no doubt overheating from the secret being revealed. BASIL looked up a bit in contemplation before remembering, "Oh yeah… I remember now. You used to have a crush on him too, didn't you? I remembered you admitted that to me after that one Christmas party. He looked so cool playing that violin, I thought my heart skipped a beat! Is what you told me."

AUBREY covered up her face as she crawled into a ball out of embarrassment, "Wait, come on! I still haven't mentally processed what you just told me yet! Don't just bring up embarrassing memories out of the blue after telling me a bombshell of that magnitude!"

"Wow, so you seriously never knew?" BASIL asked.

"OF COURSE I DIDN'T, BASIL!" AUBREY shouted indignantly, "If I knew, I wouldn't be freaking out like this! I thought he only thought of me as a friend!"

AUBREY proceeded to roll around as a ball for a few minutes as she tried to put her thoughts into order. BASIL looked on with amusement, waiting for her to calm down.

Eventually, after she finished, she laid herself on the floor looking like a dead fish. A blushing dead fish, to be fair. But it was still a dead fish expression. You know the one? With the eyes wide open and the mouth hanging dumbly? Yeah, that one.

"When did you find out about this?" AUBREY asked nervously.

"Mmm…" BASIL flipped through the photo album for a bit before his finger landed on a photo, "Around the time I took this photo of you, actually."

AUBREY sat back up to see the familiar photo of her younger self wearing a pink raincoat while winking at the camera on a rainy day.

BASIL explained, "See, I noticed that every time I took a photo of you, SUNNY would always come up to me to ask if he could see it first. When I told him about this, I teased him a little bit asking if he had a little crush on you." BASIL giggled nostalgically, "You should have seen the way his ears turned red! Aaaw, it was sooo cuuute~! I promised him that I would keep my lips sealed, but SUNNY stormed away right after in order to hide his embarrassment."

AUBREY still felt her blush practically radiating the room.

SUNNY would ask BASIL to let him see photos of her first?

Hhhhhnnnggg…

GOD, WHY WAS THIS SO EMBARRASSING?!

BASIL continued on, "Even though I promised him I'd never tell you, I was secretly trying to hint to the both of you that you were secretly into each other. Sadly, both of you were surprisingly equally dense about each other's feelings." He laughed, "To be honest, it was quite frustrating now that I remembered how many signs I was trying to give the both of you. Hahaha…"

AUBREY had to resist the urge to roll up into a ball again. Or punch BASIL in the face. Or kill herself.

Honestly, all three were really hard to resist doing all at the same time.

BASIL looked fondly at the photo, before frowning to himself, "Maybe… Maybe I should have made it more obvious that you two were in love with each other… If I did, maybe you two would have gotten together sooner…before SUNNY…"

That's right… SUNNY wasn't here anymore. There was no use feeling embarrassed about all this about a boy who wasn't even awake.

SUNNY was… probably never going to wake up again. If he was, he would have done so a long time ago…

Even if she did still have a crush on him… It would be pointless asking out a boy who was no longer with her…

"Well, I guess it doesn't matter." BASIL remarked happily, "Now that I've told you, I expect you to use this information wisely. And by wisely, I secretly mean You better be constantly teasing him about this so that he can make all those cute embarrassing faces once he wakes up from the coma."

AUBREY looked over at BASIL to see him acting carefree as normal. It was like he truly believed in his heart that SUNNY was going to wake up sometime soon…

Sigh… Why couldn't BASIL see the reality of the situation? SUNNY had been asleep for about four years now. They had waited for him to wake up for so long now, but he never did. There's no way SUNNY would wake up now… It would be better for everyone if they just accepted this fact…

But… AUBREY didn't have it in her heart to tell BASIL any of this. Her true thoughts… were probably best kept hidden away so that BASIL could stay happy.

She'd rather BASIL stay happy hoping for a day that will never come than to be sad and depressed over losing SUNNY again…

She… She didn't want him to end up like MARI…

So instead of telling BASIL what she was truly thinking, AUBREY gave him a shy nod, "Yeah… I will. It'll be fun to see his reactions when he's normally so stoic…"

BASIL smiled widely at that, as if he was extremely excited for the day to come, "Heeheeheehee! Oh, I can't wait! The two of you are going to be so cute together! The thought of SUNNY finally working up the courage to confess his feelings after all this time- and the cute smile you'll be making when you look at him- GAH, I'm so incredibly jealous!"

Wait, what?

Jealous?

"BASIL, why would you be jealous?"

The moment AUBREY asked that question, BASIL turned into stone.

Almost literally in a sense. He stilted up so much, she was worried she might have accidentally completely frozen the boy into an eternal statue of himself.

In a very robotic manner, BASIL slowly tilted his head over to look at her before asking in a stuttering fashion, "W-Whatever do you m-mean, A-AUBERGINE?"

"Okay, first off, don't ever call me that again." Ugh, she hated her full name so much. AUBREY will always be the better normal-sounding name. "Second off, you said that you would be jealous? What do you mean by that?"

"I don't remember saying that." BASIL denied way too quickly for his own good. "I don't remember saying anything of the sort. What were we talking about again? Who's BASIL?"

Overplaying the playing-dumb act, BASIL. Reign it down a bit. The word denial was practically written on your face.

AUBREY thought about it for a bit before realization hit her like a brick wall.

"No way… BASIL… Were you…" AUBREY gasped.

With an embarrassed groan, BASIL slammed his face down on the floor, "Oohh, please don't…"

"Did you secretly have a crush on…" AUBREY continued.

"Aaagh, here it comes…" BASIL lamented.

"On me?"

"YES, THAT IS EXACTLY RIGHT!" BASIL instantly recovered himself, giving an excited thumbs up and a fake smile even as he sweated profusely, "YOU GENIUS OF A GIRL! YOU FIGURED ME OUT! TEN STAR DEDUCTION SKILLS!"

AUBREY blinked for a bit before gasping again, "You had a crush on SUNNY?!"

BASIL collapsed, "Aaaugh, dammit…"

Now this was another filibuster that she was not prepared for today.

Wow…

"Oh man, BASIL… I didn't realize you swung that way." AUBREY murmured in shock, "Thinking back on it now, it actually sort of made sense. You and SUNNY were always together the most out of all of us."

Rubbing his face to clear his mind, BASIL gave a sigh, "Well, you're sort of half-right, I guess…"

"Oh? There's more to this?"

BASIL looked away embarrassingly as he tried to regain his composure. Then he gave another sigh, before admitting, "Yes, I do have a crush on SUNNY. But I'm not swinging for the other team, not usually at least. It's more like… SUNNY was a special exception…"

"Ah. Okay…" AUBREY nodded in understanding.

"And… Well…" BASIL muttered nervously as he rubbed his neck, "You weren't wrong when you guessed that I had a crush on you either."

"Ah… Okay…" AUBREY nodded again, less understanding this time. "So… wait… You had a crush on both SUNNY… and me?"

BASIL sighed now that the secret was out, "Yeah… Guess this is karma for revealing SUNNY's crush on you out of the blue. Now I had to reveal my own crush. SUNNY is probably going to find this hilarious once I tell him this a few years after he wakes up…"

"So… does that mean you've been swinging both ways?" AUBREY felt the need to ask.

"Well, like I said, I don't usually swing for the other team. I'd probably still consider myself straight in any other situation." BASIL further elaborated, "SUNNY is… special to me. In the same way that you're special to me. I cherish the both of you deeply."

AUBREY felt her face blushing again as BASIL confessed his feelings.

BASIL continued, "It only makes sense… Before I met anyone else, you were the first person who ever reached out to me and actually became my friend. Of course, I would start to develop a crush for you. Then when you eventually introduced me to SUNNY and the others, I found myself feeling more comfortable around SUNNY since he was always so quiet and attentive. I could tell him all about my problems or go on long tangents about my gardening hobbies, and he would listen with bated breath, encouraging me to keep going. He's always been a great listener…"

Yeah… He definitely was, AUBREY remembered that. She could tell him anything that was on her mind, and he would give her his complete attention, almost like nothing else was more important to him.

She missed that about him…

"I always wanted to… maybe confess my feelings to either of you. To find out if you'd ever feel the same way towards me... " BASIL chuckled embarrassingly, "But I never did work up the courage to say anything. But then when I eventually found about the two of your mutual crushes, I instantly knew that you two would be a waaay better fit together! I just had to root for the both of you on the sidelines, you know? I mean, seriously, the two people I loved the most secretly had a crush on each other? There was no way I could let the opportunity slide!"

So, BASIL had been playing matchmaker while secretly hiding his feelings away this whole time, huh? She couldn't imagine herself being able to handle that sort of thing if put in the same situation, to be honest…

"That's why I felt like I needed to keep my feelings a secret from the two of you." BASIL continued on with a rueful smile, "And I was doing a good job at keeping it a secret all this time too! Four years going, all to screw it up simply because I couldn't contain my emotions…"

"You know," AUBREY felt like she needed to console the poor boy, "If you had confessed back then, I probably would have maybe felt the same way towards you..."

BASIL shook his head with a knowing smile, "No, don't say that. We both know you're just trying to make me feel better."

Saw right through her. Damn. BASIL has gotten way better at reading people since the past four years...

"Even if you were being honest just now, I would never want to come between you and SUNNY." BASIL giggled, "You're just too perfect for each other."

AUBREY couldn't help but disagree...

Perfect for each other? Yeah, maybe four years ago…

But a lot has changed since then…

Looking back at the photo of the cute girl winking at the camera in her pink raincoat, she compared herself between the two of them.

She was so different now… No longer was she the cute innocent girl that she used to be back then. She was… rougher now. More hardened. Violent even, sometimes.

She was the kind of girl that would get into fights now. When the solution to a problem wasn't clear, she would rather resort to the quick and easy method of violence...

Would SUNNY still feel the same way towards her as he did back then? If he saw her the way she was now?

She… she was definitely not cute anymore.

No… No, SUNNY wouldn't feel the same way towards her anymore. She was sure.

She had changed too much to be the same girl SUNNY used to have a crush on.

And she'll never be the same girl ever again… No matter how much she desperately wishes otherwise.

BASIL seemed to notice her looking forlornly at the photo album. Deciding to do something about it, BASIL closed up the album and grabbed it in his hand before standing up.

AUBREY stood up as well, wondering what was going on.

BASIL gave one last look at his photo album with a sad smile, before reaching out to hand it over to her. "Here, AUBREY. I want you to have it."

"What…?" AUBREY's eyes widened in shock, "But… BASIL, this is your photo album! You treasure this thing more than anything else! This thing contains all of the cherished memories we had together… Why would you just want to give it to me?"

BASIL shook his head, "Don't worry about me. I know I can trust you to keep it safe. Please, just take it."

AUBREY looked incredulously at the album in front of her before she hesitantly reached out to take it.

Once it was in her hands, BASIL gave a sigh of relief as if a weight was lifted from his shoulders.

Turning around, BASIL walked up next to the window in his room, looking out in the night sky.

"You know, AUBREY… The day my grandma died, I thought that my life was over. I had lost too many things in such a short timespan… SUNNY going into a coma… Our old group slowly disbanding right before our eyes… Grandma passing away… I couldn't find any meaning to continue on…"

Turning to face her again, BASIL gave a broken smile.

"I truly wanted to die."

AUBREY felt her goosebumps flare up as he said it.

"It was a really dark time for me… Unable to find the motivation to do anything, I would stay cooped up in my room, getting lost in my own world. I couldn't even find myself getting up to water my plants anymore. Isn't that a scary thought? Me, being negligent towards my plants. Heheh…" BASIL laughed for a bit, before frowning, "Every night, I would dream of a fantasy world where everything didn't go wrong. It was my only escape from reality. I could only ever find happiness when I was asleep... " BASIL looked away embarrassingly, "And whenever I eventually wake up, I'd feel the despair wash over me all over again. It was like I had… SOMETHING… clawing away at the back of my mind, reminding me of everything I've ever lost… Telling me that it was pointless to go on… It was scary, having all these dark thoughts piled up in my head, almost like they were trying to take control of my body… The only way I could stop them from overwhelming me was by pulling out the photo album to remember the happy memories that I shared with everyone. I found myself constantly staring at my photos, over and over again, pretty much every single day. Forcing myself to get lost in the memories while I was awake. Then forgetting about the world as I went to sleep."

BASIL walked over to his bed and laid down, absentmindedly staring up at his roof.

"At some point though, a part of me must have gotten tired of feeling sorry for myself. I realized I was wasting away inside my own room, pointlessly torturing myself by dangling a perfect world in front of my face but never within my grasp. I thought about how Grandma would feel if she saw me the way I was. She'd be so disappointed that her grandson chose to give up on life. She'd feel so guilty, thinking that it was her fault I was like this. Then when I realized this, I thought of SUNNY. How would he react to seeing me in such a sorry state for myself? He'd never let me continue on like this. He'd be waking up every morning, forcing me out of my house and try to get me to appreciate life again. Because he cares about me. Because that's what he would have wanted for me."

BASIL sat up, giving AUBREY a proud smile.

"So that was when I decided, enough was enough. I wasn't going to stay like this any longer. I needed to find the strength to face myself, to face the dark thoughts in my head, and convince myself to live again. If not for me, then at least for SUNNY. If not for SUNNY, then at least for my grandma. On that day, I forced myself out of my room and took a deep long look at myself in the mirror, working up the courage to face my deepest fears. The fear of loss… the fear of change… the fear of having no control over my life. I didn't want to be stagnant like this any longer. I need to accept change in order to become a better person. A stronger person, one that could face reality head-on. It was… hard… facing myself, to say the least. A darker part of me wanted so desperately to cling onto the perfect imaginary world I created for myself, to try to convince myself that everything would be okay, just go back to bed and forget about everything."

BASIL sucked in a deep breath as if the memory was painful for him.

"But I persevered. I beat that dark part of myself and went outside for the first time in months. I accepted change. I accepted loss. And I truly learned for the first time what it felt like to be alive."

BASIL sighed in relief, letting out everything for AUBREY to hear.

"Ever since then, I've been doing my best to work towards becoming a better version of myself. One that I can be proud of. One that everybody could rely on and admire. One that SUNNY will look up to for guidance when he wakes up lost and confused in this new crazy world that kept on spinning without him. I think I've almost finally reached my goal too… there's just… one last thing I needed to do."

BASIL gestured to the photo album, making AUBREY look down at it.

"I have to get rid of the photo album." BASIL explained, "As much as it helped me cope when I was at my lowest… As much as it gave me joy whenever I looked through it… I figured out that I've been using it as a crutch this whole time. When things got too hard for me, I noticed that I would end up reverting back to my old habits of hiding away from reality through the world of my memories. If I was ever going to become the ideal version of myself that I aspired to be, I needed to get rid of the crutch that was holding me back. That's why I want you to have it, AUBREY. I could never throw it in the trash, it means too much for me to abandon it so coldly. It would be better if I can pass it on to the hands of someone that could get better use out of it than I ever could."

AUBREY stared at the photo album in her hands. She silently stared for so long.

BASIL patiently waited for her to respond. He would wait for as long as it takes.

Eventually, AUBREY could only silently whisper out, "Are you sure…? Are you really absolutely sure…?"

BASIL nodded happily, "Of course! Who better than you, AUBREY? Besides… I noticed that you've changed a lot since the last time we met. I can't help but feel like… you're purposely trying to forget the girl you used to be. And I don't think that's right." Standing back up, BASIL stood in front of AUBREY, "You shouldn't forget you are used to be, AUBREY. You're allowed to change, and you're allowed to grow. But you shouldn't deny the past, even if it hurts. The AUBREY from back then is as much a part of you as you are yourself. You could learn from her. Get along with her. Becoming the AUBREY that could have the best of both worlds."

BASIL had started wiping tears away from her cheeks. She didn't even realize she was crying until just now.

"Take good care of the photo album for me." BASIL reminded her, "Although it once helped me escape from reality before, I think for you, it'll help you stay more grounded in it. Then, when you eventually find yourself strong enough to not need it anymore, I hope you'll pass it on to the next person that'll need it most. Whoever you'll feel is right to give it to when the time comes."

AUBREY nodded, using her sleeve to wipe her eyes.

"Promise?" BASIL asked politely.

"Promise…" AUBREY quivered.


AUBREY looked over the photo of herself, one last time.

The girl winking at the camera in the rain.

Maybe she hadn't changed that much after all…

She smiled to herself in the mirror, before giving herself a cute wink.

You know what? Even if SUNNY might not ever wake up…

It had been so long since she last came to visit him. Maybe now was the best time for her to start again.

If not just to wait for him… then at least to pay her respects. In honor of being one of her best friends since childhood…

She looked at the calendar once again with a smile.

Tomorrow was SUNNY's eighteenth birthday, huh? She definitely needs to buy him a gift before she visited.

But before that, she definitely needs to get some sleep.

God, what time was it? 2 AM already?

At this rate, she won't even have the energy to come to visit. She better get started right away.