A light glowed in a dark vision as an emerging loud music abruptly wake her up from her frequent dreams about this certain guy whom she can never recall the name nor the face the moment she escaped from her fantasy. Reality was there to snap her back to where she should be. It must be weird to admit that for over a couple of months then she had been excited to sleep not to get some rest but to see what would happen next in her other life from the other world. Life there was a little more eventful than what it really was. She scratched her right eye as if to clear her sight.

Sun had risen up prettily again. Peeking at her image in the mirror next to her bed, she ran her fingers through her apple cut hair-do. She took her glasses sitting on the bedside table and wore them. “There you are.” She talked to herself. “There you are real self.” She imagined wearing that same dress in her dream, it wouldn’t look as good, she thought. She wasn’t what she was there. Venice Alexa Young wasn’t as stunning, she thought. Nothing was wrong with her figure but it was not what many people thought. Living in a society where standards were infamously set to almost every judgment we have everyday was as hard as talking to yourself in the mirror and waiting for a reply. She moved on and decided to start her day. Winking several more times to finally startup. “Good morning, Honey Bun!” She kissed the precious cutie patootie bunny stuffed toy she got fifteen years ago.

Honey Bun was a gift from her grandma on her fourth birthday. It was also her last gift before she died.

“Here, my little princess.” Grandma said. She brought me to her lap as she squatted next to me, gave me the present wrapped with pink ribbon.

Little Alexa stopped crying and wiped her tears with her forearm. Her sniffing earned a nose pinch from her lovely granny. She pouted before saying. “Thanks, granny. So big?” As a child, she only cared about the size of the gifts she received. The bigger the box, the better. “Is it a doll house?” She cutely asked while ripping the wrappers. “A big doll house?” She was excited to know what was inside, hoping for a toy as if she had no entire playroom in their house. Paper after paper and to her disappointment, a furry stuffed animal was there at the bottom of the box nearly as tall as her. Her smile faded as she took the toy. “A bunny? I don’t like stuffed animals, granny.” She complained like she was scammed by the expectations the four-feet tall box gave her.

Taking the bunny from her hand, grandma told her, “But this bunny wants to be your friend. And, look at those two teeth” granny pointed at Venice’s teeth. “You both have the same teeth. You know what, bunnies are also afraid of people. But that don’t last long.” She made her stand up to wipe her slimy nose. “They eventually learn to adapt, they face their fears. Soon enough, they will be playing and let people pet them.”

Smiling as if the words got into her. Actually, she smiled because of her soothing voice like everything coming out from her mouth was good and for the good of others. “Can I call him Honey Bun?”

“Sure, my little princess.”

“Honey Bun, I had a dream- a weird dream- no, a wonderful dream.” She stared at thw bunny while making her bed. “Too bad, I can’t recall his face.”

That day, she was going to have a vacation with her mother in Florida, taking the afternoon flight. Too excited she packed her travel bags five days before which left her nothing to do in the morning of the scheduled flight. Venice roamed around the kitchen like a chicken looking for just anything good for a breakfast. Lucky enough, there was one egg and about a cup of milk left in the fridge. She wanted to have pancakes that morning but she ran out of flour so she stuck to having a scrambled egg. “I have mom’s cooking later anyway.” After the breakfast she went out for a jog around the apartment for awhile to kill time. Usually, she couldn’t be bothered about living healthy and exercising but waking up to that dream, Venice was inspired. Ten minutes on the run, she was already giving up but then she remembered that Alexander McQueen dress, “I’m going to wear you and look good in you, I promise.”

In time alone, Kealan was always left hanging around his planner already jam-packed with business meetings and venue inspections. Zuttoko would be having an expansion in the next couple of years. He expected the inflation of outlays in the company but nonetheless, geared up for the next course of actions. The next days and months wouldn’t get any lighter. He flicked his pen, moving the schedules around his head to see if he can squeeze up some day off for himself.

“Kyo-” that troublemaker’s voice interrupted his thoughts. Kealan eyed him to warn him about his mouth. “Kyo-cute toys, they want those.” Assistant-slash-bestfriend Bryan pulled off a cover, smiling gloriously. Kealan only sighed. “I’ve revisited our website and there are overwhelming requests about the comeback of stuffed toys as one of our product lines.”

“No.” As simple as that, he single-mindedly ignored the customers’ suggestions.

Bryan knew he had other breakthrough project coming up but these kinds of requests were long overdue. Without him knowing the reason of his detestation with regards to stuffed toys, he tried to talk him through it only to be turned down.

“Please Bryan, just stop. I’m not going to do it.” He dismissed any further discussion about it and Kealan thought he had to remind him to prevent calling him Kyo in the future.

When Kealan took over Zuttoko from his father three years ago, he had to go by a different name as one of his father’s orders. It was made clearly to him that no one should know of his real name for his protection. Then and there, he lived under the name Kealan as if this had been worked on beforehand. Kealan was home-schooled, he barely had friends except the random relatives who went over to their house when he was young. Only in his teenage years that he overcame his post-traumatic stress disorder and Bryan, being a long-time friend and best friend, knew these things about him, unfortunately, he could be very tactless.

“I need some air.” He excused himself out going anywhere his foot dragged him to. Bryan understood how sick he was inside his office so he let him off eventhough it meant cancelling two more department meetings. As soon as he stepped on the street pavements and breathe in the industrial air due to the nearby construction, freedom at last.  His legs made sure steps on the streets, knowing exactly where to go. It was going to be a long walk and it was as if the weather gave its permission. Clouds were moving rather fast than usual spreading throughout the blue canvas, covering the sun. Kicking the pebble one last time to look at the conservatory in front. In a low and souly beginning, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue played as he recalled a memorable quote from the same classic composer.

All you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself. He thought that maybe he was touching the right key at the wrong time. Just then, his was phoned by Bryan who told him about his flight in two hours. “Again, right key at the wrong time.” He checked the conservatory once more before finally leaving.

A stewardess approached Venice’s seat, “We’re about to leave, please turn off your phone or switch it to flight mode.” Very well-mannered and modulated attendant, she liked that. Venice gave her a smile and a nod.

“Thank you, Ma’am. Have a safe trip.” She proceeded telling the other passengers the same. Everything was just giving her a good vibe, she couldn’t wait to be spending time with her family. Venice took out the neck pillow she bought the other day which can be plugged to a music player and listen to music through the built in stereo at both ends of it. The classical music she was  getting into lately played and dozed her off to sleep.

Few moments after, a guy searching for an empty seat saw the space next to Venice. “Excuse me, is this free?” He realized it she was fast asleep already so he signed to one of the stewardess if he can take the spot. She told him it was available and immediately occupied the seat to start working with his laptop. He could only shake his head to what Bryan put him into- an economy, free-seating ticket. Kealan took one quick glance at the girl soundly sleeping next to him thinking how the plane hadn’t even took off. He managed to capture her soft features in a blink- pleasant sight. The startup tone of his laptop brought back his focus and begun working. Throughout the flight he was restless as he took phone calls one after another. During the intervals he would lay back and listen to the subtle music from the girl’s pillow. He was inwardly grateful his seatmate had the same music taste.

After hours of plane ride, passengers landed safely to the Florida airport. Kealan went ahead out of the plane leaving Venice with a sticky note on her backpack. “Thanks for the music. -K” The same stewardess gently tapped her hand to wake her up. Realizing she was the only one left, she hurriedly gather her stuff. Passed the securities, she turned on her phone again to dial her mom, she was overall very excited when she had seen the Florida cement breathe in the Florida air. “I’m home.” Then, somebody hugged her from behind. the note fell off unnoticed.

She knew before she could see his face. “Dad!” She exclaimed as she hugged him back like a bear. Oh how she missed when his eyes wrinkled as he smiled. “How are you?” Walking while dad was already strolling her baggage. She knew how they were, Venice only wanted to hear his voice in person again. These small precious things

“We’ve been doing fine, sweetie.” He ruffled her hair making her feel like a little elementary girl again. “I heard you’re doing awesomely great in school.” He said with a matching brow movement.

Surprised how he knew, “You know?”

“Your teacher called me. Mrs. Calfer was my classmate way back in Juniors, remember?”

She rolled her eyes before sighing. “Yeah, she spoiled my surprise.”

“Ha Ha! Not completely. I haven’t told mom and grandpa yet. Figured you want to tell them yourself.” Venice took his arm and embraced it as they walk to the car.

To their humble residence, she noticed that something’s a little odd but she nudged the idea and just trailed the way towards the door. She pressed the door ringer only then realizing what was missing. The lights were off.

No one answered the door. “What are they up to?”

Feeling weird, she looked at where his dad was but he was gone. “When did he leave?” I rang it again.

“Mom!” Venice called through the peekhole. She pressed the ringer once more.

All of a sudden, the door and lights simultaneously shut open and turned on. Three faces popped out of the door opening. “Surprise!” Her mom yelled holding a red velvet cake- her favorite. Dad was behind grandpa who was on his wheel chair. When Venice stepped inside their house, her dad handed a Valedictorian-sash to her. Her eyes widened.

“And you said it’s a secret.”

He shrugged. “I can’t help it. I’m just so proud of you, sweetie.” Dad said kissing her forehead.

“Tell her you’re excited because we made a bet!” Mom butted in.

“You shouldn’t underestimate the name, Young, again.” Grandpa told mom.

Venice felt the need to ask. “What bet?”

“That she’s the one buying you a -” grandpa hadn’t finished because her dad covered his mouth. But because the former’s hand was huge, his nose was blocked too. “I can’t breathe, you brat!” Grandpa slapped his hand. “Sorry, dad.” He gestured him to keep quiet to which grandpa replied, “Just because you don’t want her to know, you will kill me, stupid brat!”

“I said sorry, dad.”

Nothing could have describe her family better than that scene. They were all lively, always fooling around with each other and full of love. Venice had no recollection laughing this heartily with others, only her family was bringing out this cheerful side. She was the quiet type who wouldn’t mind spending a day with no one but herself. She had friends but never was her happiness dependent to any of them. Caring for friends and being dependently happy around them were two completely different things. Just to say enough, she had many personalities depending on who she was with. A very adaptable personality.

Little chat was over awhile after ravaging the cake, Venice went to her room to fix. Something was new, wondering if they renovated her space. The door was painted, windows had new frames, there were empty spaces on the wall, they were like a size of a normal canvas. “What are these for?” She sat on her bed and it felt different. It must be a new mattress, she lied down and smelled her favorite candle scent. In no time, her body relaxed in her new and improved sanctuary.

“Aaaahhh!!! I passed!” Her ear clung when her friend from the other line screamed in excitement. Not to mention that this call got her up from the nap. She barely understood Tiffany. “I said I passed in Boston!” She almost squealed again which made her put the phone away unless she was fine with a busted eardrum. Venice was honestly not interested about it as much because of Harvard. She felt bad for bursting her bubbles when she suggested going to the same college.

“I’m waiting for Harvard. It’s what I’ve always wanted.” Tiffany profusely sighed on the other end. She almost forgot how Venice was. Venice lived her life without blank spaces. She knew where she should go and what she must do. They are total opposites. Tiffany was a firm believer of come what may and if it’s for you then it is while Venice was more the you are your own life’s architect. In order to lighten the air, Venice brought up the dream she had. It was a thrill to see someone introducing as Tiffany’s boyfriend because she never commit. “Do I have to know a guy named Alex?”

She heard gasping. Apparently, there was a real Alex in her life that Venice didn’t know about yet. “Next time… maybe?” Well, it was unexpected. She joked to segue the topic.  Then some ridiculous thoughts came up to which she shook her head. “Wait, how did you know?” Tiffany asked.

Contemplating whether she should go on and tell her friend anyway, she started it. “Promise me you will not laugh.” Venice had to go that path knowing Tiffany was too frank. The former easily compromised. “I-I dreamed about it.” She preempted her reaction as per her usual personality. She had to give it to her since it was unbelievable for the great realist Venice talking about fiction and fantasies. So, it had already came down to this she continue. “I’ve been having this constant dreams about the same guy over and over and every time is a different story to tell. Or, clattered pieces of story.” Venice would like to say more but was cut off.

“I dream my exes and I’s wedding ten times, no big deal.” She had too many failed relationships that she couldn’t care less. “Sorry, we can talk about that and Alex some other time. Boss is coming.”

 

 

Early that next morning, their family hit the road to the beach where they would spend the rest of the night. The sunkist color looked melodious along the skyline promising a day filled with treasured moments. Venice overheard her mom calling her sister Rome who would follow the trip later in the day. It was a long time since they had a chance to bond. She grabbed a pillow contently and rested in anticipation.

They arrived at the beach house after only a couple of hours drive. The place was cozier than in photos, nicely furnished and the combination of bamboo and concrete eased in together amazingly. Somehow, the tiny drizzle drops on the fogged up window looked beautiful as she witnessed the sun rising. But if she wanted anything done by the day, Venice should start helping out with the food preparation. She handed over the skewers to her dad who was assigned to the barbecue. Grandpa needed some help with his clothes so her mother assisted him to get ready. Later, her dad set up a bonfire as the weather became chiller in the night. Rome managed to come but Florence couldn’t make it. Her two sisters were getting more difficult to catch up with lately.

 

Venice stayed a little bit longer by the shore to appreciate the night, the cold air, the stars. The stars were life’s dictators, astrologists say. To her, stars are just the stars. Just like how a dream is just a dream until it comes true. “What does it mean, actually?” She uttered, staring at the fire sparks. Then, a cold wind brushed through her face like it was the answer to her question. She let an hour passed before finally going back to their room. Rome was asleep with her feet at the headboard. Her blanket was on the floor, crumpled. Venice picked and covered it on her. “Sweet dreams, Rome.” She whispered.

Some things never changed.

She received the gift from her dad, Venice’s reaction was similar to when Honey bun was given to her. It was only a little box this time though so her mind filled with guesses. A ring, bracelet, necklace? the ribbon was untangled and she only had a red lid to lift. She was surprised when she saw what it was and none of her guesses were correct. “Wait, a key?” Venice confirmed to her dad. “Don’t think too big, brain! It’s just a key.” She calmed herself because overthinking wouldn’t help her ease the excitement over a simple key in a red box. A key is just a key unless there is a car. “A car?” She exclaimed.

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