The sun was down, letting the moon shine brightly overhead.
Stray cats littered all around the parking lot in the middle of the plaza. With no human presence to disturb them, they were all free to roam the town throughout the night.
A particular building still had its lights on though. If you listened, you could hear the rambunctious noise of a group of teenagers coming from within the walls of the popular GINO'S PIZZA.
Inside, AUBREY looked on with a smile as she silently watched her group continuing to discuss a job well done over their quick trip to the distant town of NOWHERESVILLE.
ANGEL kept on gushing over how cool MIKHAEL was, which the blond-wigged boy took with the level of humbleness and politeness that was expected out of him. Read: None.
KIM and VANCE were having a playful sibling argument about who took down the most gang members between the two of them. Whoever had the least amount of knockouts under their belts would have to do the dishes tonight, apparently.
CHARLIE drank her soda in peace, a healthy radiant glow emanating from her like a Buddhist statue. The satisfaction from today's mission seemed to have lifted her spirits up immensely, making her look happier than AUBREY has ever seen her.
Six people sitting around waiting for pizza, too busy having fun to care about the world around them...
"PIZZAS ARE DONE! COME GET THEM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!" The pizzeria owner called out while ringing the bell.
KIM was quick to cut her argument short (most likely because she was losing) as she went to grab the pizzas. Returning to the table, everyone cheered at the sight of their reward for tonight being placed in front of them.
The smell of cheese and pepperoni practically filled the air that night as everyone took their share of the pie.
Before anyone could eat though, AUBREY decided now was a good time to stand up and grab their attention.
Tapping a fork on her glass, she called out, "All right everybody, listen up! Got something to say to you all."
Immediately at her command, everyone quieted down and looked towards their leader.
Clearing her throat, AUBREY started off, "Tonight has been a long time coming, as you all know. After several months of sleuthing, we were finally able to track down the bastard who hurt CHARLIE's mom and give him a taste of his own medicine. Safe to say, I'm really proud of you all right now."
Everyone exchanged smiles with each other as they continued to listen to her.
"We should all give thanks to each and every member in our gang that managed to help us get to where we are now. First off, ANGEL," She turned to the young boy with a pompadour, "who spent days doing nothing but going around to try to find anyone and everyone who could help us find a lead about where the PIT-STOP CREW came from. Hats off to you buddy."
As everyone clapped and cheered for the boy, he nervously chuckled, "Aw, come on guys! You know I only did it for CHARLIE!"
"Next up, KIM and VANCE!" AUBREY turned to the two siblings, "Thanks to you guys working your butts off with part-time jobs just to help all of us afford bus tickets. Imagine if we had to use our scooters all the way there? Round of applause for them saving our legs the trouble."
KIM puffed her chest up proudly as everyone cheered for her, "All in a day's work!"
VANCE smirked, allowing the cheers to wash over him as he continued eating his pizza.
"And of course, there's no way we could forget the key figure that helped us ID the culprit in the first place." AUBREY turned to MIKHAEL, only to pause as the boy began looking at her with expectant trepidation.
Seeing the hopeful expression donning his face, AUBREY couldn't help but sigh as she clearly knew what he wanted her to say.
"MAVERICK." AUBREY relented as she rolled her eyes, before continuing on, "Being the only one of us who ever saw the guy's face clearly and remembered it with his photographic memory. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even know who we were looking for to begin with. Thanks for the assist."
MIKHAEL basked in the spotlight for a bit as everyone cheered him on, before pointing out to AUBREY, "Actually, you forgot to add a THE before saying-"
"Don't push your luck."
"Yeah, okay." He backed down quickly, "Quite frankly, I'm just glad to be properly acknowledged."
With that out of the way, everyone slowly turned to face CHARLENE.
"Last, but certainly not least. CHARLIE." AUBREY smiled proudly, "For being the most badass out of all of us and kicking that guy's ass to kingdom come! For being able to show off just how deadly the SCOOTER GANG can be! For finally being able to serve sweet sweet justice in the name of her own mother after all these years. I think you deserve a round of applause just for that, don't you guys think?"
CHARLIE blushed heavily as everyone showered her with attention and praise.
"Dude, the way you held that dumb nerd by the legs like a bat and repeatedly slammed him into that tree? Talk about hardcore!" KIM applauded, clapping vigorously. "God, I wish I was buff enough to do that!"
"I didn't think you had it in you! Man, you were so cool, I almost couldn't believe you were CHARLIE for a second!" ANGEL whistled appreciatively.
"Yeah, you go girl! Ain't nobody gonna be stupid enough to mess with you after seeing that!" VANCE fist pumped.
"After seeing such a beautiful display of violence, one could only assume that had this been written down as a fictional story, it would have been absolutely censored in order to keep it within Teen age ratings. The Korean translator would need to come up with something clever as a replacement in order to properly localize it for their regional audience since western comedy is culturally different and ultimately subjective in the eyes of those with different values." MIKHAEL said in a strangely specific manner, as if directly referring to something or someone outside the realms of this reality as we all know it.
"Yeah... Uh... What MIKHAEL just said. I guess?" AUBREY mumbled confusedly, before continuing on with a warm smile, "Congratulations, CHARLIE. You did good."
Overwhelmed by the positive emotions being sent her way, not even the silent giant could contain her emotions.
As everyone continued cheering for her, they soon slowly stopped when they realized that their giant friend was quietly crying. Waves of concern were washed over them as they saw tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Woah, CHARLIE! What's wrong, buddy?" ANGEL was the first to hop out of his seat just to stand next to CHARLIE, already rubbing a comforting hand in her back.
Despite the tears rolling down her face, CHARLIE looked up at them with a smile, "Nothing's wrong guys. I'm just... I'm just so thankful for everyone's help... I just..." As if unable to hold in her emotions any longer, the dam within her burst as she started bawling her eyes out, "For the longest time, I wanted to do something about what happened to my mom! I was so frustrated and lost that the person who hurt her managed to get away without any repercussions! I can't believe that I was finally able to do something about him after all these years! It's all thanks to you guys! If you guys weren't my friends, I would have never even been able to know how to start looking! I wouldn't have been able to do anything!"
Everyone watched in shock as their usually silent friend sobbed her heart out, speaking the most words they've ever heard her speak for the first time since they've all known her.
"Thank you so much!" CHARLIE continued crying out with the deepest grateful smile she could muster, "Thank you all so much! You're my best friends! I love you guys!"
"Aww~!" ANGEL coo'ed gently as he continued rubbing her back, "There there, you big lug. We all love you too! We're family after all!"
"Obviously we'd want to help you out, CHARLIE! Come on, quit crying already... you're starting to make me tear up too!" KIM sniffled, already feeling the waterworks starting as she took her glasses off to wipe her eyes, "Oh damn it, too late! Gah, I'm so lame!"
"No need to thank us, CHARLIE. We would have helped you out either way." VANCE chuckled, "Dry those eyes already! We're supposed to be celebrating, not crying!"
"Not all heroes wear capes. Some simply do what is right for right's sake." MIKHAEL spoke wistfully, "Had it been any of our family members who lost their hips from that fiend, you would have surely done your best to help us get revenge as well. Take pride in today with your head held up high, my dear comrade-in-arms! Wipe those tears away!"
Despite their encouragement, CHARLIE was still overwhelmed with emotion as she continued a small laugh, she sobbed out, "I'm trying, but I can't help it guys! I'm just so happy!"
"Hey, guys." ANGEL looked around with an expectant smile, "You know what this calls for, right? I think we can all agree that this is the best time for it."
"Oh god, ANGEL." KIM groaned as she did her best to stop crying, "Please don't say what I think you're about to-"
As the pompadour-haired kid shouted out joyfully, he had already latched on tightly to CHARLIE's side.
"Goddammit!" KIM cursed out. Despite the annoyance in her voice, her face didn't match her tone as she smiled brightly and jumped into the fray as well, "Group hug!"
Following his sister's lead, VANCE set his pizza down and opened his arms out, "Ah, what the hell? C'mere you giant loveable teddy bear! Group hug!"
"Do not leave out me, THE MAVERICK, from this joyous occasion!" MIKHAEL posed extravagantly, before joining into the pile, "Group-hug-ninjutsu!"
CHARLE accepted it all as she wrapped her arms around everyone and gently sobbed in their warm embraces.
Meanwhile, AUBREY could only watch on in the distance with a small smile.
Seeing her gang come together like this and celebrate so closely with each other definitely warmed up her heart. Despite all the trouble and fights they could get into with one another, the SCOOTER GANG really was one big giant happy family.
It made her feel so nostalgic. It reminded her of a better time, back when she was still a kid...
Even now, as she carefully watched everyone come together and hug the daylights out of each other...
AUBREY could see the image of her old friends. All of them, ganging up on her as they hugged her with a smile. A small tiny AUBREY with dark-brown hair, stuck right in the middle of it all as she cried her eyes out.
"I'm so sorry... This is all my fault..."
It was supposed to be a normal Summer afternoon just like any other.
AUBREY had been invited to come over to hang out with her new friends at their house. SUNNY, MARI, KEL, and HERO.
It was the first time she had ever been in someone else's house before. The experience was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
Still, she did her best to be on her best behavior. She wanted to be the perfect guest so that she didn't embarrass herself in front of her new friends. She was worried that if she had made one wrong move, her friendship with them would have been over before it could even begin.
She had only known them for a week, after all. They were the first friends she ever made since she and her parents moved to this town. She didn't want to do anything to screw it all up.
But this was AUBREY we were talking about. Of course she'd screw it up the first chance she gets.
"I'm so sorry..." AUBREY sobbed uncontrollably, tears and snot coming out of her face like a constant stream, "I'm so so so sorry, I didn't mean to do this!"
SUNNY looked over at her confusedly, silently tilting his head as if asking what was wrong.
AUBREY couldn't do anything but stare and cry at him as he continued to bleed, the deep gash on his leg pouring so much blood that it made her sick just from looking at it.
They had been playing outside in the backyard, fooling around and doing all sorts of things as they relaxed under the shade provided by the big tree.
One of them had the idea to start climbing up the tree in order to enjoy the breeze. Everyone had the same idea and followed after him soon after.
Even SUNNY, who at this point never developed a fear of heights yet, climbed the big tree as well. He had somehow already found a relaxing position on a sturdy branch and was using it as a napping spot.
Seeing everyone having fun without her, AUBREY felt out of place. So in her attempts to fit in with her new friends, she had wanted to climb up as well to hang out with them.
She never climbed a tree before, though. She was inexperienced in climbing. She was stupid and dumb.
Some part of her must have felt competitive, probably because KEL kept egging her on to go higher and higher. His stupid irritating voice grated on her nerves, and AUBREY just felt like she had to do something cool just so that he could shut up and stop teasing her.
She was so dumb.
HERO was warning her to be careful. MARI cautiously watched on with a nervous hand over her mouth.
KEL kept telling her to go even higher to prove that she was serious.
SUNNY peeked with one eye open from his position.
Everything in her gut told her to calm down, stop being so hot-headed and realize that she was doing something dangerous. She kept ignoring it.
She didn't want to look stupid in front of her new friends.
God, AUBREY was so stupid.
Picking one of the branches higher than the rest, AUBREY decided it was a good spot to sit on while gloating at KEL from below. Seeing the irritated pout on his face almost made her feel like it was worth all the trouble.
Until the branch revealed that it couldn't hold onto her weight.
When it cracked and snapped off, she really thought she was going to die for a second. She couldn't stop screaming all the way down to the bottom.
Something caught her as she landed, cushioning her fall.
It was SUNNY. The silent kid who never once spoke a word to her. For some reason, he decided to risk his life just to save her.
They both landed roughly on the ground, AUBREY being no worse for wear other than a bruise.
SUNNY, however, was bleeding from getting his leg cut by the branch that fell down with them.
AUBREY could only freeze up in terror as she saw pieces of wood protruding out of his skin, a deep crimson of red spilling out everywhere.
When SUNNY looked at his leg, she could remember seeing the agony and shock on his face for a brief second as the pain settled in.
Yet instead of crying, he clenched his hands tightly and bit his lip until he was able to control himself and relax again.
"Ow." SUNNY muttered. The first word she ever heard him utter since they met.
That was how everything led up to now.
SUNNY winced a bit as he shuffled around on the couch, setting his injured leg down after he just finished pulling out most of the wood that was stuck in him.
AUBREY squealed in a panic as she saw blood continuing to gush out of his leg. It was the most blood she's ever seen a person bleed out before, and she couldn't calm down.
KEL slapped her back and gave a reassuring grin, "Oh come on! Stop being a baby! You've never seen a cut before? It doesn't even look that bad."
True. Even though SUNNY was the one who got hurt, he didn't seem to be fazed at all by the cut on his leg. Perhaps it only looked worse than it seemed because it was the first time AUBREY has ever seen an injury like this. Maybe the severity of it was all in her mind.
But the nonchalant way KEL was treating her only made her more irrationally upset.
AUBREY started crying even harder now in response.
HERO stepped in and pulled KEL away with a tired sigh, "Not helping, KEL."
KEL sheepishly rubbed his neck, "Sorry. Dunno how to talk to girls."
At that moment, MARI finally returned from their closet while carrying a first-aid kit under her arm and a bottle of some kind of orange powder in her hand.
"Don't worry, I got the bandages and turmeric powder!" MARI reassured everyone with a smile.
AUBREY was able to finally settle her crying fit down as she watched the older girl meticulously prepare to treat SUNNY's wounds.
SUNNY scrunched an eye shut as MARI straightened his leg, but pretty much stayed completely silent as he was being healed.
MARI gently cleaned the blood from his wound with a small piece of wet cloth. After that, she went ahead and applied a healthy dose of the orange powder all over his skin.
SUNNY gave a curious head tilt before pointing at the powder with a questioning look.
MARI noticed this, bringing the bottle up, "These? It's called turmeric powder. Mom and Dad taught me this trick." She went on to explain, "Whenever a person gets cut or injured, they always usually leave a scar behind once it heals up, right? But if you put these on the wound while it's still fresh though, the skin absorbs it and it prevents a scar from being formed. This way, we can keep your leg looking clear and smooth even after it's done healing! Pretty cool, huh? Sort of like magic dust!"
SUNNY silently nodded in understanding as he looked at the bottle in fascination.
It took a while before everything was finally done. MARI stepped back with a proud look as she finished patching up SUNNY's leg.
The silent boy slowly brought himself standing as he tested his bandaged leg out. Judging from the small irritated looks of pain whenever he set his foot down, it still seemed like it hurt a small bit. Otherwise, he was completely alright.
SUNNY gave a thumbs up to show that everything was going to be okay.
Everyone in the room gave a small sigh of relief.
Walking up to her little brother, the older sister gave a gentle bop on the head as she sternly told him, "Be more careful next time! You could have gotten seriously injured. What would I have done if that branch landed on your head or your neck or something?"
Rubbing his noggin with a small frown, the usually silent boy spoke a full sentence for the first time as he pointed to AUBREY, "Couldn't help it... I wanted to save AUBREY before she got hurt."
Being reminded that this whole situation was her fault, AUBREY began tearing up again as she covered her eyes in shame.
"I'm sorry! I'm really really really sorry!" AUBREY sobbed out, "I didn't mean to get you hurt!"
With the adrenaline and worry from earlier wearing off, AUBREY felt her knees collapse as she sat on the floor.
"I... I didn't mean to screw up! I didn't mean for it to happen! I'm so sorry!"
God, she was so stupid.
This was her only chance to make a good first impression for her new friends. She was supposed to show off that she was normal and fun to talk to.
Now everything was ruined because of the stupid mistake she made. Not only did she make herself seem like a complete screwup, she also managed to get one of them to injure themselves in the process just to try to save her from getting hurt.
After this, no one was going to want to hang out with her again... Whenever they see her, they'll just remember this exact moment where she caused one of their friends to get his leg cut up from her mistake. They'll do everything they can to avoid her from here on out.
She was going to be stuck all alone in this stupid town with absolutely no friends for the rest of her life.
This was all her own stupid fault.
Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid-
She felt her thoughts get interrupted as a small hand landed on her head.
Looking up confusedly through teary eyes, she saw SUNNY sitting closely in front of her while petting her head.
Although his face didn't show any emotion, AUBREY could see in his eyes that the boy didn't harbor any resentment towards her.
His face was so close though... AUBREY felt herself heating up from the small gap between them.
"Looks like SUNNY's already forgiven you, AUBREY." MARI chuckled as she sat down by her side. "You don't have to cry anymore."
AUBREY blinked as she looked around the room.
Instead of scorning her or looking at her like she was some kind of sick disgusting alien from off-planet, they were all giving her warm smiles as if nothing was wrong.
AUBREY couldn't really believe it, to be honest. She was fully expecting them to try to get her to leave after this.
"B-But..." AUBREY sniffled, rubbing her eyes clear, "It... It was my fault. I got SUNNY injured... I should have been more careful, but I ended up hurting one of you... You guys don't hate me or think I'm horrible?"
"What?" HERO asked audaciously, "Of course not! Why would we ever think that? It was just an honest mistake."
SUNNY nodded in agreement.
KEL came up behind her and smiled brightly, "Yeah, there's no way we could ever think someone like you would be horrible! If anything, you're just a little bit weird for crying so much over a little accident!"
"KEL!" HERO quickly reached over to grab his pipsqueak of a brother by the ear, "Seriously, time and place."
KEL chuckled heartily, even as he hissed in pain from his ear being pinched.
"S-So..." AUBREY sniffed again, looking up at everyone and whimpering out, "So I didn't mess everything up? You guys still want to be my friends?"
"Is that what you're worried about?" MARI asked in surprise, "You were worried that we wouldn't want to be your friends anymore?"
AUBREY nodded with a hiccup, she continued wiping her eyes from the constant stream of tears flowing down, "I was... I was really scared that you guys would think I'm dangerous or something... I was trying really hard to be polite and kind so that I could fit in... I didn't want to give anyone any reasons to hate me... You're the only kids I've gotten to know since I moved here, I didn't want to lose any of you already... I don't want to be alone..."
She had been so alone before she met them. No one wanted to be her friend.
No one wanted to hang out with the new girl who lived in a trash heap of a house.
She was smelly. Dirty. Creepy.
She couldn't even afford more than a single pair of shoes.
That day when she accidentally lost her right shoe, it was almost the worst day of her life. Her dad had warned her frequently to not lose her new expensive pair of pink shoes. He worked really hard to save up money just to get it for her, after all.
If it wasn't for these four kids who had found her crying in the middle of the sidewalk and helping her find her shoe, she didn't know if she would have the strength to come home and face her parents that day.
These four kids were the only ones who have ever been nice to her since she came to this town.
She didn't want to lose any of them...
She didn't want to be alone...
She was so sick and tired of being alone...
Someone began hugging her before she could even realize it.
Pulling her hand away from her eyes, her bleary vision could make out SUNNY wrapping his arms around her body in a warm embrace.
"No more crying. I forgive you already." SUNNY said softly.
For some odd reason, AUBREY felt her face heat up again from feeling SUNNY hugging her so tightly.
This was the first time a boy her age has ever given her a hug before. She honestly didn't know how to react.
How was she supposed to even react?
Before too long, she felt another pair of arms wrapping around her from behind.
"I didn't realize you were going through something like that." MARI said, before reassuring her comfortingly, "Poor girl... I promise, AUBREY. None of us hate you at all. You're not going to lose any of us as friends."
"Yeah, especially not when we've only just gotten to know you." HERO joined in politely, leaning down to hug them all from the side, "Don't worry about being alone anymore, okay? If you want, how about we hang out more often? Would that make you feel better?"
"Yeah, you should totally hang out with us more!" KEL cheered happily, before coming in to hug everyone as well, "If you promise not to cry anymore, we'll let you play with us as much as you want! So don't feel bad, okay?"
With every single one of them dog-piling on top of her, AUBREY felt like she was being suffocated under all that weight.
Still, the warmth and love that exuded from them made her feel so much better than she did before. Hearing all of them reassure her that they would stay friends relieved the massive weight in her heart instead.
"Okay... Okay..." AUBREY sniffled, her lips slowly forming a small smile as she calmed down.
These people were so weird, already accepting her as part of the group so quickly before they had the chance to know her.
She was so thankful to have friends though. She always wanted friends but never had any before.
It felt nice to finally be a part of a group she could get along with.
AUBREY began relaxing into the group hug as she started hugging SUNNY back.
She could feel all their hearts beating steadily around her.
SUNNY's heart was beating just a tiny bit faster.
AUBREY gave a satisfied yawn as she stretched her body outside, enjoying the night's breeze stroking her skin.
She managed to sneak out of the pizza parlor around the time MIKHAEL and ANGEL brought the karaoke machine out. As much as she liked music, she was a horrible singer. She'd rather not get involved with anything that could cramp her style.
Even now while outside, she could hear the terrible screaming coming out of MIKHAEL's mouth as he sang some kind of Japanese anime theme song or whatever. AUBREY couldn't help but chuckle, imagining the carnage inside.
Ah, poor JOHN. She definitely needed to remember to give that pizzeria owner a big fat tip later for putting up with her and her friends.
The stars were beautiful tonight.
AUBREY admired the sight before her as she looked up at the night sky in awe.
She and her old friend group used to lie outside and stargaze a lot, didn't they? It happened to be one of SUNNY's favorite activities.
It was easy to see why. For a boy with an active imagination, seeing a sight like this must inspire some truly amazing thoughts to go on through his mind.
She's been thinking about him a lot more recently, hasn't she?
Ever since she came to visit him on his birthday, thoughts of the comatose boy kept popping up in her mind.
Almost everything reminded her about him in one way or another.
It was weird to think about, now that she realized it.
She thought for sure that she had already accepted the fact that he'd never wake up again. For the longest time, she accepted the fact that he was already gone from her life.
It was what gave her the strength to go visit SUNNY for the first time in years.
To accept the reality of the situation and come to terms with the fact that SUNNY was no longer with her.
It was hard to come to grips with this fact at first. She so desperately wished that she was wrong, that SUNNY would miraculously wake up the next day and tell her that he was fine. It was the reason why she had such a hard time visiting him anymore.
Because she knew that having hope in that belief would only disappoint her in the end.
When she finally found the strength to go see him again, it was supposed to be so that she could pay her respects to the friend she lost.
Seeing him again was supposed to cement that fact...
All it did was cause everything to remind her about him again.
All she could do was think about SUNNY now.
It was honestly kinda annoying.
Was this... proof? Proof that she didn't move on after all? That some part of her still held on to some naive hope that he might still wake up again?
AUBREY felt herself bitterly laugh a bit at the revelation.
Was she actually still holding out hope that SUNNY would wake up again? After all this time?
Wow. She couldn't believe it.
To think that there was still a small part of her that was holding out for hope.
Why couldn't she move on from SUNNY, she wondered?
Why does she still think about him, even after all this time?
At this point, she was more disappointed in herself rather than angry. Despite everything she did to finally convince herself otherwise, it seems her default settings were to revert back to thinking about SUNNY.
Why was it so hard to just... move on from him?
Why was she trying so hard to move on from him?
Why was she so dead set into firmly believing that he wouldn't come back in the first place? It's not like he was dead yet. There was always a chance that she could be proven wrong.
She was just terrified of being disappointed, she guessed. Of being proven wrong. Maybe... maybe that was why she kept trying to convince herself that he wouldn't come back. To lessen the impact in case the bad news of the worst-case scenario ever reached her ears.
God, how the hell does BASIL do it so easily? What makes him so optimistic that SUNNY would just pop back into life as if it could happen at any moment?
What gave him the willpower to stay so naive and innocent, despite everything going against him?
Wasn't he scared that he might be wrong too? Wasn't he scared that all that hope would end up being for nothing?
Was he even prepared for the possibility that SUNNY wasn't going to make it?
The sound of a door opening up nearby caused her to lose her train of thought.
Turning over to the noise, she was pleasantly surprised to find a weary BASIL exiting FIX-IT as he prepared to lock up shop.
Speak of the devil.
BASIL gave a great big yawn after a hard day's work, finally finished with all of his tasks. Locking up shop was the last thing on his list, and after this was going to be some well-earned sleep.
When he prepared to leave though, he paused in his tracks as he noticed a familiar pink-haired girl out of the corner of his eye.
With a smile, BASIL waved at the girl and came up to her, "Hey, AUBREY! Fancy seeing you here late at night."
"Hey, BASIL." AUBREY smiled back, "You look like a mess."
Looking down at himself to see his disheveled state, he casually asked back, "Do I? Guess I must be. Not too surprising, considering everything I've been through today."
"This is the first time I've seen you working so late." AUBREY noted, before asking, "Right, didn't you say something about how FIX-IT was lacking employees the last time we met up together? You had to work overtime, right?"
"Heh, yeah. Luckily for me, the manager managed to find someone to share the shift with me. Now I finally get to have a day off tomorrow." BASIL chuckled happily, before asking, "And how about you? I wasn't expecting you to be out this late in the night."
Gesturing behind her, AUBREY told him, "I'm out with the gang over at GINO'S. We're celebrating a successful mission today back in NOWHERESVILLE."
"NOWHERESVILLE? That's about a two-hour bus ride from here, isn't it?" BASIL asked incredulously, before giving a knowing smile, "Was it a gang thing? Should I even ask what you guys were doing there?"
"Probably not." AUBREY shrugged casually, "Just settling some personal vendettas. Nothing you need to concern yourself about."
BASIL probably wouldn't condone the idea of getting revenge on someone. He always was a bit of a goody-two-shoes about stuff. It'd be better not to burden him by getting involved with her gang's trouble.
"I wanna say Please don't get into trouble, but I feel like that's sort of going to end up being inevitable with you guys." The flower boy sighed playfully, before shrugging, "As long as I don't wake up to police officers at my front door asking me if I've seen a pink-haired girl that recently murdered someone."
"Oh please," AUBREY teased, "If I ever kill anybody, they'd never find out about it."
"Hmm. Just what my anxiety needed to hear tonight. Thanks." BASIL deadpanned.
They stared at each other for a bit before they both ended up laughing from the banter.
Looking up at the stars, they both admired the beautiful sight together.
It took a while before BASIL piped up again, "Remember when we used to stargaze a lot as kids? It used to be SUNNY's favorite past-time."
"Funny, I was thinking about that earlier myself." AUBREY remarked.
"Sometimes we'd just spend hours laying out there by the lake, talking about random stuff." BASIL reminisced fondly, "It was the only times we'd ever get to hear SUNNY speak his mind more often. He'd tell us little bits and pieces, finally giving us clues as to what goes on in that brain of his."
"Oh yeah... Those little adventures he'd go on in his own imaginations whenever he zones out." AUBREY giggled, "All six of us, going far and wide, helping people and having fun traveling together."
Sometimes he would draw these adventures out on paper too with colored crayons before sharing it with everyone else. The little doodles that represented all of them always seemed to be having the times of their lives.
Didn't he use to have a sketchbook?
Yeah, he did. AUBREY remembered now.
SUNNY always had this sketchbook over at his house that was filled with drawings like that. All these amazingly colorful drawings of worlds and imaginary friends that came from SUNNY's mind. A sky made of purple and constellations of random toys. Even though most of the drawings baffled her, she always found it amazing how she was able to sift through what his mental process was like.
It felt like she was able to understand the stoic boy a little bit easier, just by looking through it. Like seeing through a window of his soul or something.
What happened to that sketchbook anyway? Did MARI still have it?
She always hoarded all of SUNNY's toys and belongings ever since he was in a coma. No doubt the older girl must be preserving it somewhere in her room, waiting for the day to finally give it back to her younger brother.
That sketchbook probably won't ever see the light of day ever again if MARI still had it.
Kinda sucks. AUBREY would've liked to go through it one more time if she had the chance.
"Yeah, SUNNY always seemed to be a pretty active daydreamer." BASIL smiled, "Makes me wonder if he's still dreaming even now. What do you think he'd be dreaming about?"
If SUNNY could still dream... She could only hope that it was a pleasant and beautiful one, free from hardships. Something that could give him peace and respite.
"I dunno. Something crazy humongous like an epic journey across the world to save the person he cares about most?" AUBREY offered with a shrug.
"Oh? You mean someone like you?" BASIL smiled teasingly.
Huh. She wasn't really even referring to or thinking of herself when she said that. It was just sort of the first thing that popped into her mind.
"Or maybe more like someone like you?" AUBREY countered back.
"Agh, jeez. That would be embarrassing. I'd rather not be seen as the damsel in distress if I could help it." BASIL blushed and chuckled. Looking back up at the stars, BASIL said, "I figure that he'd be dreaming about being friends with CAPTAIN SPACEBOY or something silly like that. Oh well, guess we'll never know for sure until we ask when he wakes up."
AUBREY slowly turned to stare at BASIL.
There it was again.
That endless supply of optimism towards SUNNY's recovery. The sheer confidence in his voice that left no room for doubt that SUNNY will wake up.
Even after six entire years of nothing changing, he was still as firm and steadfast as the day she first reunited with him.
How the hell does he do it? What gave him that confidence in SUNNY to begin with? What did BASIL know about SUNNY's coma that AUBREY didn't know herself?
What made him so sure that SUNNY would come back?
"How do you do it, BASIL?" AUBREY ended up murmuring out loud.
BASIL glanced at her curiously, "Huh? Do what now?"
"How are you so sure about SUNNY? Even after all these years? How are you able to say that SUNNY will be alright with such a straight face?" AUBREY continued, "I just don't get it..."
She had given up hope on him so long ago.
Or maybe it was more accurate to say that she had to force herself to give up hope on him...
It hurts so much to keep believing. It made her feel so stupid and naive. Every single time she walked into that hospital room, expecting that day to be the day that SUNNY would finally open his eyes again.
Only to end up in utter disappointment every single time.
She had so much she wanted to tell him. She had so much in her heart that she wanted to say. She had been keeping everything inside for so long, and she desperately wanted to see SUNNY again just so that everything would return to normal again.
She wanted to go to the park and play on the swingset with him again. Just the two of them, by themselves.
But he never woke up.
Why does BASIL still cling onto hope? Was he really that naive?
AUBREY had to seriously fight with herself just to be able to move on from SUNNY. It was the only thing that gave her the strength to go visit him again after all these years. The fact that she accepted he was gone made her come to terms with seeing him again.
She never told BASIL about any of this, of course. To him, AUBREY was as hopeful and confident as he was because of... true love or some bullshit like that.
She kept it to herself because she didn't want BASIL to be depressed or disappointed. She didn't want him to crumble down and end up exactly as MARI.
Something about this whole thing was starting to infuriate her. It just didn't seem fair that she had to be the only one to try and move on when everyone else seemingly didn't.
And now after going to visit him again after avoiding him for so long... She found out that a small part of her still never moved on at all.
She seriously doesn't get it... Was there something wrong with her? Was there something wrong with BASIL?
Who the hell was in the wrong here? She had to know. She had to come to grips with something solid, otherwise she might go insane.
BASIL studied her for the longest, his eyes slowly going over the features of her face.
"KEL asked me the same thing a couple days earlier." BASIL told her. Facing forward and looking out to the parking lot, he asked, "Before I tell you what I told him, how about answering my question first so that I have an idea of what's going on? What do you think about SUNNY? How do you feel things should be like in your own honest thoughts?"
"What do I think about SUNNY?" AUBREY repeated slowly.
"Don't be afraid to admit your true feelings." BASIL reassured her, "I'm not a kid anymore. I won't be upset or anything over something like this. I just wanna know what your thoughts are."
AUBREY considered his words as she thought about her answer.
"I think that SUNNY's already gone." AUBREY finally admitted out loud, "It's been six years now. If he was going to wake up, he'd have woken up sooner than that. There's no way he'll ever come back if it was taking him this long. I think it'd be better if we all accepted that fact and moved on from him so that we can keep going with our lives." AUBREY paused and gave a small trepid gulp, before finishing with, "Holding out for hope at this point will only end up with all of us wasting time getting disappointed."
BASIL closed his eyes, slowly processing her words carefully.
AUBREY looked down at her feet, a small pit of shame forming in her stomach.
She didn't want to admit any of that to him. She had been keeping her true feelings inside so that BASIL wouldn't ever have to find out about it.
What was going through his mind right now? Was he angry at her? Disappointed?
Will he start to hate her now, just like MARI does?
BASIL took a moment to take a deep breath and gathered his thoughts.
"Guess I should have figured... you always did seem a bit uncomfortable whenever I talk about him like he's still with us." BASIL murmured.
She felt herself wilting back at that.
"To answer your question earlier, I'm not confident at all. In fact, I'm pretty terrified that SUNNY might not ever wake up again." BASIL sighed tiredly, "I have absolutely no idea for sure if SUNNY will ever come back."
AUBREY widened her eyes in shock.
That was not the answer she was expecting.
"B-But... I thought-" AUBREY mumbled confusedly, only for BASIL to interrupt her.
"It doesn't mean that I'm going to stop believing though." BASIL continued, looking out to the parking lot wistfully, "As long as SUNNY still has a heartbeat, there just has to be a chance that he's still fighting. Somewhere in there, he's alive and trying to get back home. He'd never leave any of us behind, not on purpose. SUNNY is a good person, you know?"
All of a sudden, a small orange cat appeared at their feet and looked up at them with curious eyes.
"Oh! Hello, Mr. Kitty!" BASIL greeted happily, crouching down to pet it. "Sorry, neither of us have any treats for you today."
The cat didn't seem to mind the touch, purring softly as it enjoyed its ears being scratched. It seemed pretty friendly towards people despite being a stray.
AUBREY watched BASIL continue playing around with the small orange cat, before asking him, "What if you're wrong? What will you do if SUNNY doesn't ever wake up at all? What if he ends up passing away after all this?"
It was a cruel question to ask, AUBREY had to admit. But it was a question that she had to deal with for a long time now. It would be better to face it head-on rather than tiptoe around it.
BASIL sighed at this as he thought about his response.
"I guess then I'll be wrong. I'll just have to accept that he's gone too, eventually. Not after spending some time mourning for him, of course." BASIL answered softly, "But I'll just have to move on when the time comes. SUNNY wouldn't want me to obsess over him after all. He'd want me to keep going to see how my life plays out."
A small feeling of relief surged in her heart as she heard this.
She must have been really overreacting with all of this, hasn't she?
For some reason, she thought for sure that BASIL would end up exactly like MARI. It was something that she had always been secretly worried about this whole time.
Instead, BASIL reacted much more maturely than she was expecting.
Knowing that she was worrying over nothing made her feel... kinda comforted.
Even if the worst happens, AUBREY would still have BASIL in her life to keep her company.
"I must have been acting a little carefree, haven't I?" BASIL chuckled sadly, "Going on and on about SUNNY this and SUNNY that around you without ever really caring about how you felt. I was probably really annoying to be around."
"No! No, that wasn't what I was thinking at all!" AUBREY quickly denied, "That wasn't the issue here. I mean... I just... I was just..."
Oh man, how exactly was she going to explain that she had been keeping all of this baggage inside her heart simply because she couldn't trust him to react properly?
"It's okay. Really, I get it." BASIL waved her away with a gentle smile, "I don't blame you at all for thinking this way. It's only natural for some people to lose faith after waiting for so long."
The small orange cat seemingly had its fill of attention as it decided to scurry off into the dark.
BASIL stood back up, taking the time to readjust the flower clip on his head and putting his hands in his pockets.
"Hey, AUBREY." BASIL began, "I'm not asking you to change how you think. You don't have to believe that SUNNY will come back if it makes you uncomfortable." Turning to her, he continued, "But at least... At least keep an open mind about him. Until we know for sure that he's gone for good."
"I'll... I'll try." AUBREY smiled.
Wasn't even a lie this time like all the others. She won't have high hopes about it... but she'll be ready and willing if SUNNY does end up proving her wrong.
Honestly, that would be a really awesome day.
"Eh, good enough answer for me." BASIL smiled widely with a chuckle. "I'll try to be a bit more subtle too. Make things easier for you."
BASIL looked back up to admire the stars again, letting AUBREY follow suit.
You know, she didn't expect this day to end with her opening up her feelings and having her worries fixed up.
Man, talking to friends and being honest with them about your feelings was awesome! She should totally do this more often. She couldn't imagine why she didn't do this before!
A lot of problems seem like they could be solved just by talking it out like this.
The two of them continued stargazing in comfortable silence for a while, before their session was cut short as someone came out of GINO'S.
KIM sludged her way through the door, looking like she could pass out at any moment. Despite that, her eyes began sparkling the moment she saw both AUBREY and BASIL standing together in front of the pizzeria.
"AUBS! There you are! I was looking everywhere for you!" She greeted first, shambling over to the two friends and wrapping a loose arm around both, "And the flower nerd is here too! That's awesome!"
"Hi, KIM. How are you today?" BASIL greeted politely.
"Oh, I'm doing much better now that you're here, cute stuff." KIM wiggled her eyebrows at him.
Oh god, here we go again. This familiar sensation of a migraine was starting to form in AUBREY's head as she prepared herself to ask the obvious question.
"KIM, please don't tell me you're drunk..." AUBREY sighed disappointedly.
"Okay. I'm not drunk." KIM said resolutely.
Then she immediately tipped forward and almost smashed her face to the ground if it wasn't for BASIL quickly catching her on time.
"Ooh, nice strong hands~!" KIM giggled drunkenly in his arms, "If you wanted to cop a feel, you should've just asked!"
"DAMMIT KIM, you are drunk!" AUBREY shouted, before asking incredulously, "How did you even convince JOHN to sell you alcohol again after what happened last time?!"
"Nah man, I'm didn't buy from JOHN man..." KIM corrected as she brought herself upright. With a hand still around BASIL'S neck, she said, "I brought my own!"
"WHY?!" AUBREY screamed in exasperation.
"Pfft, what kind of nerd celebrates without at least consuming just a tiny little bit of alcohol?. Besides, it's not like Mom was gonna notice a small tiny bit of her wine goes missing." KIM laughed, waving away AUBREY's concerns before changing the topic entirely, "Nevermind that for now! Where were you?! I was waiting the whole night to finally see you suck at karaoke!"
As AUBREY rubbed her face from her friend's behavior, she sighed tiredly and answered, "I snuck out here while nobody was looking, okay? I just wanted some fresh air."
KIM slowly brought her eyes up to stare at her friend, tracing it back to BASIL, then back to AUBREY again.
Then she suddenly had a shit-eating grin that AUBREY recognized immediately was trouble.
"Oh, I see how it is! You were hoping to score some pollination with our resident flower nerd, ain't ya? Trying to keep him all to yourself?"
AUBREY gave an aggravated groan as she covered her face while BASIL started laughing.
"It's not like that, Jesus Christ..." AUBREY insisted.
"Oh yeah?" KIM asked doubtfully, before saying, "In that case, you don't mind if I flirt him up a bit, do ya? You won't get jealous, riiiiight?"
KIM proceeded to then start smushing her face into BASIL's cheek, rubbing against him affectionately.
"How about it, BASIL? Won't you have some fun with your favorite girl?" KIM asked in a cutesy way.
With a cool head, BASIL chuckled at her before respectfully declining, "Sorry, KIM. Not too interested in a romantic relationship right now. Even if I was, I wouldn't try to start one with someone who's obviously inebriated."
"Well shit." KIM pouted disappointedly, "Aren't you boring?"
Flinging herself out of BASIL'S grasp, she launched her body over at AUBREY to force her to catch the punk-girl before she fell.
Now deciding to rub her face against AUBREY's, KIM announced, "In that case, I'll just set my sights on you! Won't you show your little KIM some sugar?"
As KIM puckered her lips and leaned in for a kiss, AUBREY rolled her eyes and pinched the drunk girl's lips shut.
"KIM, you are such a disaster." AUBREY stated flatly.
Clearly annoyed at being rejected twice in a row, KIM began to throw a drunken tantrum, "Oh come on! If neither of you want to make out with me, then at least start making out with each other already! It's been three years, when are you both going to do something scandalous?! I've had my money staked on the two of you making a move behind the school bleachers for years now and I'm still waiting!"
"Uh... wow." BASIL murmured to himself with a blush.
Face glowing red from both embarrassment and outrage, AUBREY screamed out, "KIM, SHUT THE FUCK UP! That's it, no more candy for a month after tonight! You hear me?!
"You're not my mom! And stop dodging the issue already!" KIM shouted back disorientingly, "Come on! Be a friend and help me score fifty bucks! I'll even give you half if you let me watch!"
This continued on for several minutes as AUBREY and KIM did this back and forth bickering together while BASIL casually observed from the sidelines.
After a while, BASIL began to feel a bit awkward as he waited around long enough for things to escalate.
Checking the time on his watch, he saw just how late it was and realized he was eating away precious sleeping time.
"Welp, I can see you two are having fun." BASIL stated cheerfully as the two girls began wrestling for dominance, "I'll let you guys have fun celebrating then. I should be heading home now."
"Alright! Take care and good night, BASIL! Thanks for the talk!" AUBREY responded back, even as her face was being squished by KIM'S massively thick thighs.
"No, wait! Come back!" KIM called out desperately, "Make out with at least one of us before you go!"
"SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP-" AUBREY held KIM back in a leg necklock, "I can't hold her back when she's like this! Run, BASIL, run!"
BASIL gently waved goodbye and headed back home, ignoring the cries of despair coming from KIM'S drunken tantrum.
Phew. Finally, home sweet home.
BASIL felt a wave of relief wash over him as he unlocked the door and set foot in his house, breathing in the aroma of his flowers to calm him down.
Today was a very tiring day, but he had to admit that it was very fulfilling as well.
Being able to have an honest talk with AUBREY about her true feelings with SUNNY was unexpected. He was happy to finally get that cleared, even though he was just a tiny bit disappointed that she didn't have any faith left for SUNNY...
Ah well, it's no big deal. It just means that her reaction will be that much more fun to watch when SUNNY eventually comes back.
Giving a big yawn for the second time tonight, he felt himself slightly swaying side by side as his body relaxed and his head filled with sleepy thoughts.
God, he couldn't wait to get to his bed.
Passing through his house, he silently greeted each and every plant in his path as he imagined them welcoming him home from a long day's work.
Making it to the bathroom, he went ahead and finished his nighttime rituals of brushing his teeth before bed.
Swirling the water in his mouth, he gargled for a bit and spat it out before tiredly rubbing his face clear.
In the mirror was a young man with blonde hair staring back at him with a peaceful smile.
An image of his best friend SUNNY stood behind him over his shoulder.
"Good night, SUNNY. I'll see you tomorrow." BASIL told him happily.
SUNNY nodded before disappearing.
With that done and over with, BASIL gave one last hearty sigh as he prepared to head to his room.
Opening the door, he expected to see his neat and tidy room exactly the way he left it, alongside a nice comfy bed.
BASIL felt the corners of his lip slowly drop to a neutral frown as he looked at his room again.
The window was shattered, as if someone outside had broken in.
Glass shards were strewn about all over the floor.
An ominous note with big capital letters was placed on his bed, spelling out his name.
He was this close to calling it a night too.
Shaking his head clear, he forced himself to stay awake as he prepared to assess the scene.
Carefully going through his belongings, he was able to safely conclude that everything he owned was still in one piece and nothing was stolen. Thank God for that, he supposed.
Besides the broken window, it didn't seem like anything else was vandalized either. All of his plants and furniture were still intact.
That left only the note on the bed to give him any clues as to what was going on.
Grabbing the note, he unfolded it and put the paper in front of his face as he stared at the contents.
Tis I, your dear old best friend from childhood, KELSEY. As you may have noted whilst you've returned home from your ventures, I mayhaps accidentally committed the crime of vandalism and trespassery as I attempted to access your house through the entrance of your window, which is now unfortunately shattered into smithereens by my careless behavior. I do apologize, and hope that you might find it in your heart to forgive this poor wretched fool, for I have a decently adequate explanation regarding the reason why I have committed such tomfoolery. For you see, I have appeared before your estate earlier today in bearing great news, that of which I most dearly wished to share with you before the morrow. In my haste, I have attempted numerous times to call out for your attention under the assumption that you were still currently occupying your estate at the time. After many foiled attempts to grab your attention, however, I decided that it was worth intruding on your estate through any means possible in order to locate your person as soon as I possibly could, for the news I bring was of much importance. Sadly, it is with much regret that I realized too late that you were already away from the premises long before the time I have arrived.
In this case, I have decided to do the next possible thing. Knowing that you would eventually return to your humble abode, my detailed plan involved leaving this note behind to provide you a series of clues in which you could accurately guess the grand news that I've come to tell you. By the end of this adventure, you will soon be able to reunite with a friend that has been lost to us for many moons.
Are you prepared? The first clue is going to be a letter that reminds you the most about a snake-
BASIL stared intensely at the note in his hand for the longest time as he did his best to decipher the words written on it.
"I can't read this."
BASIL looked up confusedly from the chicken-scratch block of text hastily written on the note, wondering who the hell was crazy enough to do something like this.
The bad handwriting made it impossible to make out any words.
This was obviously either the work of a kid, or someone who had a weird twisted sense of humor.
In either case, he should probably call the cops and have this reported to let them know that there was some sort of maniac on the loose.
His droopy eyes began weighing heavily as he struggled to keep them open.
A voice in his head clearly called out to him, begging him to do all of this tomorrow when he had the free time to do so.
Right now, he needed sleep.
Making a mental note to clean his room tomorrow, he collapsed right on top of his bed and found sweet relief as his face felt the nice fabric of his mattress.
Before BASIL closed his eyes for good, he took one last look at the note in his hand and gave it a stern glare.
Honestly, what kind of prank was this to begin with? At least the guy who did this wasn't out to rob him when he had the chance.
Still, if you were going to leave behind a note, at least make it legible to read.
Giving the note a passing glance, BASIL turned the note around to see how long the terrible handwriting would go on for.
Big blocky letters, written in clear English.
BASIL! SUNNY IS BACK! :D
The flower boy's eyes widened in shock.
A burst of adrenaline courses through him as he sat up and reread the text again.
It took him a moment for the words to settle into his mind before he dropped the note and immediately ran out of the house.
Sleep can wait.