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01/01 Direct Link
The beginning is difficult precisely because the possibilities are numerous. Even with the ability to delete and start over, the words are reluctant to come out. These words are not carved in stone nor even etched in memory. They are simply random scribblings. But without them, how can we begin?

Drinking tea while staring at the screen, I await some sort of sign, some direction to proceed in. The choices, though aplenty, refuse definition, remain ambiguous. The search for a story worth reading appears and cheers from the back of the mind. But my hands remain motionless, awaiting a beginning.
01/02 Direct Link
Another year begins, only the date changes, the rest remains unchanged. Broken hearts, misunderstood feelings, incomplete stories, unfinished business - all these are carried forward from last year, the book remains unbalanced. Viewed from afar, each entry appears manageable; however, the distance required for this view comes at a high price, perhaps one that can't be paid in money or in time. It is a great balancing act - to be the artist and the painting, the sculptor and the statue, the author and the story. In time, the boundary may turn fuzzy, perhaps even disappear. And yet some entries remain untouched.
01/03 Direct Link
It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It rarely is in these parts. Actually, the nights are dark, I'll grant you that, but the stormy part is reserved for relationships. And I had to face a fierce one tonight. I had failed to pay the rent. Again.

My landlady is not a monster. Well, not in the literal sense. She is a sweet, understanding mother of two adorable children, Rachel and Sarah, and a sweet, beautiful wife to her husband. She is a wonderful lady called Serena. She just gets rather pissed when a tenant misses a payment or four.
01/04 Direct Link
Three brisk knocks accompanied by the soft "Stephen, are you in there?" announced the undesirable confrontation I seemed to get myself into too frequently these days. The question was merely a formality - I knew that she knew that I would never leave my room with the lights on. Not after that first lapse in the first week. And even if I had turned off the lights, how long could I have remain hidden? No corner is dark enough to remain hidden in forever. Besides, maybe she just wants to know if I wanted a slice of her fabulous pumpkin pie.
01/05 Direct Link
Aah, fabulous pumpkin pie - the fortnightly offering which prevented many a tenant, myself included, from seeking another shelter. Serena's culinary talents weren't exceptional; however, her pumpkin pie commanded respect. And also brought in a few extra dollars.

The pumpkin pie was not the only thing preventing my exit. The atmosphere was generally pleasant, no major complaints, while the two other tenants seemed agreeable in our infrequent interactions. The overdue rent was a factor, though only for the short term. No, the primary reason holding me back was the landlady's husband, Jonathan. My father's best friend. And also his last request.
01/06 Direct Link
I opened the door and let in the landlady. A beautiful landlady holding a plate of fabulous pumpkin pie.

"Stephen, this is for you. Now, please tell me you have something for me." In the naughty recesses of my mind, naughty thoughts danced in merriment at her choice of words. My God, she's beautiful, one thought whispered. An absolute goddess, spoke another. From this angle, she looks exactly like..., another began, before being interrupted by the overriding thought: she's 43, a mother of two, and wife of your father's best friend, just take the pie and spit out the lie.
01/07 Direct Link
"Ser...Mrs. Higgins," I began, even as one persistent thought blurted out: age is just a number, look at those...

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Higgins, but I need a little more time to arrange the rent. I know I didn't pay on time last month but I promise this will be the last delay. I recently got a temp job at school, just some paperwork is pending, then I'll get paid every other week. I hope you understand, Mrs. Higgins, I would really appreciate just a little more time."

Now, if I say these exact words, I have a chance. Maybe.
01/08 Direct Link
"I'm sorry, Mrs..."

"Oh no, Stephen, no, no, no. This is unacceptable. I'm a reasonable woman, I will forgive the first mistake, but I don't want to come up here every month and listen to another drawn out apology. I can't work my expenses around your whims, Stephen. Now, tell me when exactly can I expect it?"

My ears caught the gist of her speech but my mind was too busy capturing her moving lips to process the information, let alone formulate an appropriate response. Besides, how will my mind function when she keeps arousing my naughty thoughts so successfully?
01/09 Direct Link

"Stephen! Stop staring and answer the question."

"...Tuesday...I will give it to you on Tuesday...the rent, I'll give the rent on Tuesday, Mrs. Higgins."

"Alright then, I will come back in two days. I hope you have the rent ready by then. Otherwise, another tenant will occupy this room."

With that, she turned and walked out. Hey, she's got a nice...That's enough, my mind declared. Naughty thoughts dissolved.

Two days. How am I going to arrange four hundred dollars in two days? Who can I ask? Who? These questions remained in mind, the pumpkin pie remained untouched.

01/10 Direct Link
It was too late for a jog in the park so I sat scrolling through my cell phone's directory. A nice, hard jog around the park often helped clear my mind. As long as I watched the scenery and not the eye candy on offer. Truth is, there was only one jogger who had caught my eye and roused my naughty thoughts. She seemed approachable, vulnerable. I began rationalizing my naughty thoughts into presentable opening lines while steadily detouring towards her. A few meters apart, I saw her stop, smile and wave. I played it cool and jogged past her.
01/11 Direct Link

Which was a good thing. A few meters past, I stopped and appeared to adjust my shoes when in fact I had stopped expressly to sneak a glance at her. There she stood, offering a magnificent view of her toned body. Alongside her stood a tall man and a child in a pram. Naughty thoughts turned guilty at once. The glow of familial happiness sapped my mind and pushed me out of the park. It's funny how beautiful she looked when I thought she was available and how plain she looked when I saw she was, or seemed, happily married.

01/12 Direct Link
I saw her a couple more times but the attraction was lost. Oh, she remained very beautiful, just not attractive. I decided to focus more on running since then.

None of the names I scrolled through rang a bell. Just my luck...plenty of friends with no spare change, dozens of acquaintances not acquainted enough to borrow from. And to turn an acquaintance into a moneylender would require more time than I had. I could take a chance with one couple of professors at school. But that was an untried avenue I preferred not to venture into. Not yet anyway.
01/13 Direct Link
The list yielded nothing. I walked over to the window and stared into the dark night. Perhaps a passing car or flashing light would spark a benevolent name. No harm in hoping, right?

A green van screamed through the street, followed momentarily by a police car. Not your night, greenie, they'll get you in a couple of blocks. At the fountain. They always catch them at the fountain. Some kind of crook magnet, a lucky charm for the law.

Two students had once started a chase just to see how far they could get. Didn't even reach the fountain. Punks.
01/14 Direct Link
A couple walking their dog caught my attention. Actually, the sirens had excited the dog, which began barking fabulously, which in turn attracted my attention. The couple appeared unfamiliar with this neighborhood, spending several minutes at the intersection in directional debate. Their silhouettes crossed blades, a leash and a cane in opposition. The shadowy fight was even, each blow countered deftly. But the cane proved victorious in the end. They turned left and proceeded as before. They were going towards the park. Which lead towards the college.

Perhaps it was destiny at work. Or perhaps I had no other choice.
01/15 Direct Link
The list of professors from whom I could borrow four hundred dollars without notice was short. But I needed three names. The minimum is always three.

My psychology professor was a cool dude, but would he be cool enough to lend me money? I'm sure he could afford it, considering his flashy lifestyle. And also his family background. I wasn't doing too badly in his class either, having received a B+ on my last essay. That's right, Stephen, count the positives, my mind said.

The untouched pumpkin pie beckoned. First let's get the three names, then I'll get the pie.
01/16 Direct Link
My English professor was an obvious choice considering she was also my adviser. On the other hand, did I need that extra twist in the equation? As an adviser, she was encouraging and straight-forward; as a teacher, she was casual, strict, serious and humorous all at once. A bewildering person. Chances of borrowing from her depended on her mood. But also, perhaps most adversely, I had received a C on the last essay. This one was difficult, perhaps a standby at best.

The clock chimed eleven times. Another ten hours to go before my first class of the week.
01/17 Direct Link
Suddenly a name popped in mind. Myland, the psychology professor! Not the present one but the one who taught my Introduction to Literature class in the first semester. A fantastic class taught by a wonderful teacher. The class dealt with paranormal phenomenon, spontaneous human combustion, aliens, hypnotism, dreams, the subconscious. He almost convinced me to major in psychology...until I perused the real psychology texts. Still, I had received an A in his class, enjoyed a certain friendship with the professor and often bumped into him on a regular basis.

Two names down, both psychology professors. The pie came closer.
01/18 Direct Link
Two-thirds of the way and I sat down, the pie in front of me, twirling the spoon, revisiting previous semester classes in hopes of securing another potential moneylender. I had taken a full load the first semester, five classes, well, actually four classes plus a one-credit biweekly Badminton course taken only to fulfill the requirements. I was never interested in pursuing sports. Not a bad player and never the last one chosen, I nonetheless hadn't displayed the desire to develop my skills. The coaches thought I was above average in physical education. Good for classes, not for Varsity.
01/19 Direct Link
I enjoyed individual racket sports - badminton, table tennis, squash. But I enjoyed them casually, like weekend indulgences, not career opportunities.

Our school held an inter-dorm competition every spring and I was hoping to enter on the off-campus team in table tennis. But entry in one individual event required at least one entry in a team event. Strange policies. Perhaps I'll opt for flag football. Or the four hundred meter relay. I'm good at running. Late and away from responsibility, usually.

Having only two of the three names, I cheated and took a spoonful of the fabulous pumpkin pie.
01/20 Direct Link
Good but not great...either my taste buds expected too much or my brain was not in sync with my stomach. Or perhaps Serena gave me the wrong slice. The pie tastes just fine, my brain said, admit your guilt and figure out the third person, it's getting late.

One more name...but who? Economics class is on Tuesday, too late to depend on it, although Professor Channing seems approachable. Let's see now, tomorrow is Psychology, American Literature and...

No one else sprang to mind. I'll just ask the two psychology professors and hopefully I won't need a third person.
01/21 Direct Link
I finished the pie without further feelings of guilt and stretched out for the night. They say snacks before bed are unhealthy but I always felt fine. Besides, whenever I felt my weight gaining, a jog or two around the park usually leveled things off. That's one thing my father instilled in me successfully. We often jogged in the mornings, before the school bus picked me up. By the junior year, I could run three laps while my father jogged one. But there was never a sense of achievement in that. It wasn't running towards anything, it was just running.
01/22 Direct Link

The alarm went off the moment I seemed to enter the sandman's destination. Typical. A good night's sleep was a rarity whenever I felt as if I had slept well, I often felt tired, sleepy and puzzled while whenever I felt as if I hadn't, I often felt relaxed, energetic and alive. The mystery of perceived comfort versus actual comfort remains unsolved.

A quick shower, bitingly cold yet reassuring, removed the remaining traces of the sandman. The next user of the bathroom wouldn't be up until after my first class. Bathroom singing auditions remained between the other two tenants. Thankfully.

01/23 Direct Link
In order to avoid an early morning glare from Serena, I forewent breakfast downstairs and headed for college, planning on a quick coffee and bagel on the way. The ordeal of making breakfast, writing down all the items used for said breakfast and then eating it, all while Serena prepared the children for school in the next room was too much for a Monday morning. Especially after last night's warning.

The signs seemed favorable outside. A light drizzle is a beautiful sight. Not outright drops, or even droplets, of water but slivers of moisture descending with neither hurry nor worry.
01/24 Direct Link
Perhaps unsuitably dressed, I nonetheless ventured into the misty morning. Early morning sounds buzzed around me - not chirps and hums but whirrs and screeches - sounds of a mechanical society. This was neither a large city nor a quaint town. It was one of those promising transitional towns that remained transitional. Optimists call them stable and consistent, others call them stagnant. Willow Boughs was unheard of outside the state - which made it not a city; Willow Boughs had a McDonald's and a Starbucks - which made it a city.

I came to Willow Boughs because I bet against my father and lost.
01/25 Direct Link
It began as a simple discussion on further studies. I preferred a medium to large university on the West Coast while my father suggested a small college, either in our city or in an unheard of town called Willow Boughs. Naturally, I was repulsed by his suggestion. Our first few conversations on this matter usually ended by my yelling an expletive or two and storming out of the house. When I returned for dinner, my father and I discussed sports, women, woodcraft - anything but college choices. When it came time to prepare applications, we had another interesting bout of discussions.
01/26 Direct Link
I remained firm in my refusal to understand his point of view. He remained steadfast in his refusal to justify his choice. As the days zipped past without progress, my father resorted to emotional tactics. I cracked. As a compromise, I told him I would only apply to Willow Boughs College; joining it would be another issue, another discussion. It was a safe school for me, not even in the third tier of national liberal arts schools. I thought about watering down the essay but as my grades and SAT scores were remarkable, the essay could not hide my ability.
01/27 Direct Link
Besides, just the thought of dumbing down my writing was embarrassing. I wasn't a great student in high school but certainly was above average. Especially in writing critical essays. I had even gotten into the questionable habit of preparing meticulous outlines and introductory paragraphs for my close friends in our junior and senior years. We considered it helpful collaboration. Who knows what the teachers considered it. Naturally, I had the good sense to curb my writing style to suit each friend's customary writing skills. You can't expect a C student to suddenly write A material, any teacher would be suspicious.
01/28 Direct Link
In the end, only one teacher appeared bemused by our antics and directed quizzical looks at me. I think he knew but either he couldn't confirm his suspicions satisfactorily or didn't deem it necessary or worthwhile to follow up. It was the last semester of high school and so most teachers were just happy to have senior students stay attentive in class.

College writing was a different ballgame altogether. What passed for a B+ or A- in high school turned out to be a C+ in college. Nowadays, instead of helping others, I frequently had to get literary help myself.
01/29 Direct Link
As expected, I got into Willow Boughs College. I also got accepted into my first and second choices. Perhaps I undershot? Perhaps I was lucky? Either way, I prepared myself for an intelligent and persuasive conversation with my father, to convince him once and for all that there was a brighter future for us all if I went west. I was determined to stay firm and not give in to his emotional tricks this time. It was only a matter of weeks before I would be running around Los Angeles - it was so close I could taste the Pacific Ocean.
01/30 Direct Link
Fate, and my father, had other plans. Upon seeing the acceptance letter, he wept. Then he challenged me to a race around the school track.

"If you win, you can go wherever you want. If I win, you go to Willow Boughs, deal?" he said.

Out went my carefully constructed arguments and in came a sudden rush of arrogance with this new chance. A quick run and I would be flying to California. The offer was unbelievable but I wasn't going to let it pass.

"Alright, it's a deal," I said, my mind already packing suitcases and booking the ticket.
01/31 Direct Link
I was halfway around the track when I saw him collapse. My foolish father. He wasn't going to win, he just wanted to try. But it was enough to break his body. I sat bewildered in the ambulance, too confused to cry. He passed away before I could finish the paperwork.

The next few days were a blur. Legal paperwork, crying relatives and a few debtors filled the days. And then, as in the movies, I found a sealed envelope while sorting my father's papers, the contents of which decided my future for me. A letter written three years ago.