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Chocolate: A Sailor Moon Retelling

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I’ve searched for ages to finally find you

There were times when I wanted to give up 

Times where I wanted to collapse

And there were times where I couldn’t find my way

But, because of you, I’ve been able to come this far

After a lifetime of battle, this is where our story begins  

 

 

Hirado, Japan

A hazy blue dawn as dark as the deep sea stretches over Usuka fishing port. The loud mechanical sputter of boat engines mixed with seagull cries carry through the crisp and salty morning air as fishermen make their way back to shore. People all over the village start to wake up and go about their business. And for a single mom and her young son, waking up this early is part of their daily routine. As mother and son make their way out of their family-run seafood restaurant, she picks up her wheelbarrow and they walk down to the fishing port just in time to see their favourite fisherman arrive. The young boy runs to the end of the dock where the fishing boat is about to pull in and shouts, “Did you catch a lot of fish?”

The man shouts back, “Of course! I caught so many, I was worried the boat might sink!” 

Both mother and son are happy to hear that. She smiles and the boy gives him a huge double thumbs up. The fisherman returns the gesture. After his boat docks, he loads some of his freshly caught seafood into the mother's wheelbarrow and she bows in appreciation. As the mother and son turn to leave, the fisherman grabs the boy’s arm, signalling to talk in private.

“Mom, you get going first, I’ll follow you after.”

“Okay.” She turns to the fisherman and says, “Why don’t you stop by the restaurant today for lunch?”

He responds cordially, “Sure, I’d like that.”

As she walks away, the fisherman turns to the boy, crouches down, and pulls something from his pocket to place in the boy’s hands, “It’s chocolate. A friend of mine who works on a deep sea fishing boat brought it for me. Do me a favour and don’t save it for later. And make sure to eat all of it, okay?”

He looks up to see the boy’s mom walking along the seawall back to her restaurant with her heavy, full wheelbarrow. As he stares at her longingly he sighs and says, “I’m worried she might exhaust herself and get hurt, carrying all that weight. I would love to be able to deliver it to the restaurant for her.”

The boy looks at him with an amused smile, “Why don’t you just tell her already?”

“Tell her what?”

The boy takes a deep breath and shouts in a mockingly playful tone, “NATSUMI! I AM SO IN LOVE WITH YOU! WILL YOU MARRY ME?” 

With his embarrassment growing by the second, the fisherman waves his arms to physically block the boy in an attempt to quiet him down. The crafty boy dodges and continues trying to get his mom’s attention.

The man finally grasps the kid and covers the child’s mouth with his fishy hand, “Goodness! What in the world are you talking about? Your dad would never let that happen. He would resurrect from his grave and beat me to death! I bet he would say something like, “You stupid bastard, know your place! I’ll drown you in the sea!””

“Why don’t you give it a shot and see?” Said the boy coyly. 

“Jeeze, kiddo. You sure are gutsy.” He turns back again to the boy with a menacing smile and pulls him close, “Now what should I do with you? Should we jump into the sea and go for a swim?” Still holding the boy, the fisherman hops with him toward the edge of the dock, as if to jump in. Before they can reach the edge, the pair start to topple and break out in laughter. 

 

Back at the restaurant, Natsumi starts to prepare for the lunch rush. Pots of boiling water and hot frying pans line the kitchen burners and fresh ingredients cover the countertops. She prepares octopus by first boiling it in vinegar flavoured water, then chilling it in an ice bath. As it chills, she cuts vegetables, fries various seafood in her hot oiled pan, and prepares rice in bowls. As dishes are simmering in their pots, she takes time for a quick breakfast break to grill fish over a small fire in the back driveway area of the restaurant.  Natsumi’s son walks over, watching her roast the fish and confidently says, “Salted anchovies.”

Natsumi looks at him with curiosity, “What?”

“The skin doesn’t crumble if you spread salted anchovies over the halibut when you grill it.”

“That’s true, it hardens the skin to keep it from flaking. Smart thinking.”

The boy then walks over to a bowl of sauce, dips his finger in, and tastes it. He makes a disgusted face. The mother responds, “Is it bad? Here, let me have a taste.”

He hands her the bowl and she dips the tip of her pinky finger in and tastes it, “you’re right, this doesn’t taste good, it’s missing something.”

As they both wrack their brains thinking of which ingredient would best compliment it, the boy dips his finger in again and really tastes it. Natsumi ponders, “Not sugar, not rice syrup….”

After a short time of analyzing the flavours of the sauce, the boy looks up excitedly like he’s figured out a complex math equation, “Dried sweet potatoes.”

 

***

 

Later that afternoon, a young girl in a ponytail and lightly coloured plaid dress approaches the back driveway of the restaurant. She peers at the various foods laid out to dry in the hot summer sun. Quickly glancing around to see if anyone is near, she walks over to some dried root vegetables on a cloth on the ground, picks up a chip, and pops it in her mouth.

“That’s for the cows,” said a boy, who suddenly appeared from the side of the restaurant. With guilt coursing through her, she looks toward him, stands up, and hangs her head in shame. 

He walks over and picks up the same dried vegetable chip, but from a batch on the table instead.

“This is for us,” he says and eats it. 

“I envy the cows,” replies the girl, “They get to eat delicious food.”

The boy gestures to her to sit down at the table outside and disappears inside the restaurant. After a short time he comes back out with a big tray of various foods, sets it on the table in front of the girl, and walks back into the restaurant. She marvels at all the food and excitedly smiles. Just as she picks up a spoon to start eating, she notices the boy walk out of the restaurant and quickly puts it down. He places a glass of water on the table, “Dig in.”

“But I don’t have any money.” 

“I never asked you to pay,” replies the boy and walks back in to help his mom with the lunch rush.

The boy and his mom start serving food and drink to their packed restaurant. Families enjoy various seafood dishes, kids happily eat their food, and people young and old alike marvel at the taste. As this is happening, the young girl out back starts to try the food and happily shoves it in her mouth. She savours all the delicious flavours, really tasting the food, smiling with every bite, and sinks into pure bliss.

As Natsumi brings some dirty dishes back to the kitchen, the young girl eating out back catches her eye. She turns to her son, “Who is that girl, your friend?”

“She said she hasn’t eaten anything since last night.”

She watches the poor girl scoop giant spoonfuls of food into her mouth, barely even chewing, “My goodness, that girl seems to really enjoy our food.... Wait a minute, are those tears?”

Looking concerned, the boy steps out to speak with her. He sits down beside her and asks her, “Did you chew a stone?” The girl shakes her head. 

“Did you eat some spicy peppers?” 

She looks at him, and cries out with a mouth full of food, “This food is so delicious that it’s making me unbelievably happy,” and continues to softly cry. 

The boy grabs a tissue and starts to wipe her tears away, “Do you want more rice?”

The girl shakes her head, “No, it’s alright, I don’t want to trouble you further.”

“I’ll bring some more rice,” the boy replies and rushes back inside. Just before he leaves, he turns around, “Come back for lunch tomorrow. I’ll make you Chocolate Shasha.”

“Chocolate Shasha?”, said the girl in confusion.

“I’m a chef too,” boasted the boy, “You can come here whenever you’re hungry. And you don’t need to pay, so don’t feel guilty.” He flashes her a grin, then walks back inside. 

 

“Hey! Makoto!”, yells a voice from behind the girl. A boy comes rushing toward her, “What are you doing here? Everyone is looking for you!” He looks at her empty bowls, “You ate? Oh man, Mom will be furious!” Unable to say anything more to the boy, Makoto is rushed by her brother back to their vacation home. She approaches her mother, whose facial expression turns from sour to furious upon seeing her. She quickly grabs a scale and places it in the living room of the apartment. Makoto loudly gulps and steps on the scale.

“My God,” her mother exclaims, “Three pounds, are you out of your mind?! Your audition is in a few days and you’ve worked so hard to lose weight! Just how much did you end up eating?!”

Her brother jumps in, completely betraying her, “She ate an entire bowl of rice, Mom. She didn’t leave even a single grain.” The mother looks shocked and horrified. Before she can speak, the apartment door opens and Makoto’s father walks in.

“Honey,” he shouts, “Guess what? I have fried chicken! I made it from scratch, just like the good old days and everyone who’s tried it says it’s the best they’ve ever tasted! It’s so good, try a piece, Honey.”

He turns to Makoto and crouches down with a loving smile, “Makoto, you said you’ve always wanted to try your dad’s famous fried chicken, well, today’s the day,” and hands her a small piece.

Before she can take it, Makoto’s mother flips the tray out of his hand and the chicken falls to the floor. She rudely exclaims, “Are you proud that you used to sell fried chicken at a countryside market?” 

The father, looking hurt and confused, meekly replies, “Honey, this is--”

She cuts him off, “God! You’re such an embarrassment. We are going back to Tokyo, everyone go pack your things, we leave tomorrow. This vacation is officially over.”

 

---

 

The next morning, the young boy woke up early to prepare his special chocolate dessert, “Chocolate Shasha.” He gathers all of his ingredients in the restaurant kitchen and starts preparing them. Milk bubbles gently on a pot on the stove as he stirs melted chocolate in a bowl. He grabs a piece of chocolate from a small bowl beside the milk pot and throws it in. Without looking, he reaches for another piece and his arm smashes down on the handle of the pot, splashing boiling milk all over his left arm. He yells in pain, but no one comes running. He is completely alone in the restaurant. 

That same morning, Makoto’s family packs their car and starts their long drive back to Tokyo. To pass the time, Makoto’s brother, Shinichi, continually checks himself out in his pocket mirror, while Makoto gently presses a spoon to her cheek, pouting. 

“Makoto, rub harder so that the puffiness from all your extra weight goes down,” barked her mother. 

“But her face is so tiny and cute! It doesn’t look puffy at all,” interjects her dad, earning himself a dirty look.

“Mom, can I become an actor instead of Makoto?”, asks Shinichi and flashes Makoto a huge cheesy grin. She responds with a look of confusion. As she watches the scenery outside, Makoto recalls what the boy had said to her yesterday, “Come back for lunch tomorrow. I’ll make you Chocolate Shasha.”

“Dad, pull over and turn around,” Makoto suddenly shouts, “I need to go eat Chocolate Shasha.”

 

Back at the restaurant, the boy puts his finishing touches on the handmade chocolates, dipping them into a chocolate ganache and coating them with crushed nuts. Placing all six chocolates into his homemade box, he sighs, smiles, and walks out back. Natsumi finally comes down to the kitchen restaurant from their living area and sees her son standing outside eagerly waiting. Minutes pass that feel like hours to him. Just as he decides it’s time to give up and walk back inside, he sees two black cars pull up and park on the side of the road beside the restaurant. His face lights up, thinking he might be able see that beautiful girl’s face one more time. Instead, bodyguards emerge and help an older lady out of the lead car. A married couple and their young son emerge from the other vehicle. 

“We’re finished serving lunch for the day,” the boy politely says to the older lady. 

The older lady looks at him sternly and asks, “Are you Nephrite?”

“Yes,” the boy replied.

“What is your father’s name?”

“Kyanite Kurokami.”

The lady smirks, “Are you a good student? Do you get good grades?”

“I’m in the top two. Most of the time I get the highest mark in my class.”

Nephrite turns his head around and calls out, “Mom! We have customers!”

Natsumi steps out of the restaurant to see what all the commotion is about and as she walks up the driveway and sees who it is, she turns as pale as a ghost, and bows low in respect.

 

Inside the restaurant, Natsumi serves the lady a pot of tea while the married couple stand around impatiently. The lady takes a sip, “I heard a funny story recently. Kyanite Kurokami, who was expected to inherit D-Point Hospital, eloped with a housekeeper’s daughter and died shortly after. Now his brother, Tourmaline Kurokami, acts as if he owns D-Point--”

Tourmaline, shocked and embarrassed, jumps in, “Mother!”

Kimiko, Tourmaline’s wife, immediately adds, “Beryl, Mother, I don't know what you’ve heard, but--”

“I’ve transferred the deed to the land under Tourmaline’s name in order to build a cardiac center, but I’ve caught wind of your plans to sell it instead.”

Tourmaline’s eyes widen in panic, and Kimiko jumps in yet again, “I can explain,”

“Oh it doesn’t really matter, it will all be yours after I die anyway. It’s just you and your sister, Pyrite, who will inherit all the wealth.”

Tourmaline looks frantic and blurts out, “Mother please, don’t think like that. I would never even dream about such things!”

“However,” says Beryl, “I am sorry to disappoint you, but as it turns out, your brother had a son. So it seems I have a back up plan now,” and smugly smirks.

Kimiko pipes in, “Please think about your grandson, Zoisite. He takes after you, being so bright and smart. He looks up to you.”

Tourmaline calms down and tries to use his childlike charm, “Listen to Kimiko and forget about me, please think about Zoisite.”

Beryl, completely ignoring those two, continues with her train of thought, “What was his name again, Nephrite? Do you think he can best their son, Zoisite? I plan to pass D-Point to someone who is competent and capable of overseeing the entire hospital.”

Natsumi, with a serious look on her face, swallows and says, “Please leave Nephrite out of any family issues. Please continue to pretend we don’t exist and Nephrite and I will just live a quiet life here--”

Beryl slams her fist down on the table, “Do you think I care about what you want? My grandson has lost so much because of his lower-class good-for-nothing mother. Do you not realize that?”

 

Meanwhile, Nephrite and Zoisite are out by the docks. Nephrite catches up to Zoisite, who repeatedly kicks a doghouse with the name “Sora” over the opening. 

“Hey! Stop that,” yells Nephrite, “She’s not feeling well. Stop bothering her,” and pushes Zoisite, making him fall down on the concrete pathway.

“Did you just push me because of that stupid mutt? I scratched my hand, you stupid piece of trash!”

Feeling remorseful, Nephrite extends his hand, “I’m sorry I pushed you. I really am, but don’t call Sora a stupid mutt. She’s like a little sister--”

And before he could finish his sentence, Zoisite tackles Nephrite to the ground and wraps his hands around Nephrite’s throat, “You really get on my nerves! You and your dog can go to hell!”

Nephrite pushes Zoisite over and gets on top of him. He winds up to punch Zoisite in the face, causing Zoisite to wince and cover his face with his hands. Seeing the boy cower in fear, he stops a few inches short of Zoisite’s hands and says, “If you’ve come for a meal, eat quickly and leave.”

He gets up and rushes over to Sora. Gently petting her, he says softly, “Sora, are you okay? You must have been so scared, but everything is fine now. I’m here for you and won’t let anything happen to you.”

Enraged, Zoisite picks up a rock and throws it at Nephrite’s head, yelling, “YOU SON OF A BITCH!”. It slams into Nephrite’s temple and he cries out in pain.

With blood streaming down his face and a fiery rage in his eyes, Nephrite runs toward Zoisite and a brawl quickly ensues. He tackles Zoisite to the ground and they struggle for dominance, punching and kicking each other. Both rise to their feet and Nephrite charges at Zoisite, grabbing him at the waist and bracing for the cold sea water as they fall off the dock. 

 

---

 

Both boys are rushed to the local hospital’s emergency room. An intern, a nurse, and Natsumi all hover over Nephrite’s unconscious body.

The intern checks for signs of consciousness and sees no response, “Can you hear me? Are you able to move?” He checks Nephrite’s heartbeat and frowns, “Where is Dr. Kim?” 

The nurse replies, “He said he should arrive shortly.”

Meanwhile, loud and obnoxious cries echo throughout the area, “My goodness, my poor baby boy!” A fully conscious Zoisite lays on a hospital bed with his parents, a doctor, and six interns hovering around him. 

The doctor quickly checks his vitals and does a pain assessment, “It’s only a minor injury, so don’t worry,” he says to Zoisite. “Do you feel pain anywhere else?”

Both parents frantically interrupt, “Tell him if you feel any pain anywhere else.” “Yes you need to tell him, he will examine you and make everything better.”

The doctor tries to calm the family down, “It’s nothing serious, please don’t worry.” He turns to his staff and speaks in a low voice, “Move him to the operating room.”

As Zoisite and the doctors leave, Natsumi rushes over to them, blocking their path, “Doctor! Please take a look at my son. He is very badly hurt and is in more need of urgent care. Please don’t just leave him to one intern. Please!”

The doctor glances over at his nurse. She calmly addresses Natsumi, “Another doctor is on his way and will be here momentarily.”

In a sudden burst of anger, she replies, “Momentarily? When will that be because you’ve been saying that for a while now!” 

She calms down and turns once again to the doctor, “Doctor, please examine my son. His injury is more serious!”

Kimiko walks in between them, “What the hell are you doing? Get lost!”

The doctor starts to walk off and Natsumi grabs his arm, pleading with him yet again, “Nephrite is unconscious, please examine him!”

Kimiko yanks Natsumi’s hand from the doctor’s sleeve, “Stop getting in the way. Move aside and leave already!” 

Natsumi doesn’t move an inch.

“What are you deaf? I said get lost!”

The doctor steps in, “Miss, it’s our job to decide who needs to be treated more urgently. Another doctor will arrive soon so please calm down and wait,” he turns to his team of interns, “move him quickly, now.”

As the team starts to leave, Natsumi’s conversation with Beryl flashes in her mind, “My grandson has lost so much because of his lower class good-for-nothing mother. Do you not realize that?”

In a moment of desperation to save her son, she calls out to them one last time, “Doctor, wait! Nephrite is also a member of the Kurokami family.” With tears streaming down her face, she cries out, “My son, Nephrite, is also Mrs. Beryl Kurokami’s grandson!” 

 

***

 

The following summer, Makoto and her family returned to their summer home in Hirado. Filled with old memories and new feelings, Makoto rushes to the restaurant after readying herself. Dressed in green shoes and a blush pink lace dress, she opens her matching green purse and takes out her mirror just out of sight of the restaurant. Checking herself over one last time, she puts it away and confidently approaches. She peers inside the windows to see an empty and abandoned restaurant. Just then, the fisherman that Nephrite so loved caught sight of Makoto while walking along the pier, “Are you here for the restaurant?”

Makoto responds, “There’s no one inside and the door is locked.”

“The family moved to Tokyo last year.”

“Why did they move?”

“Why do you think?” scoffed the man, “They were destined for so much more than this quiet little fishing town.”

Makoto hangs her head in disappointment, “But I came here to eat ‘Chocolate Shasha.’ My mom isn’t forcing me to be an actress anymore, so I can eat all I want.” Filled with immense sadness and longing, she starts tearing up.

Moments pass and Makoto, still sitting on the table outside the restaurant, recalls the fisherman’s words, “I heard Nephrite waited a long time for you.”

“He waited for me?”

“He even burned his arm making chocolates for you.”

She then remembers the sweet smiling face of a certain handsome young man, “You can come here whenever you’re hungry. And you don’t need to pay, so don’t feel guilty.”

She takes a moment to breathe. The salty sea breeze is a relief from the heat of the sun, and after a few moments, she finally gets up from the table at the back of the restaurant. Feeling a deep longing and sadness in her heart, she takes one last look around and drags her feet back home. 

 

***

 

20 years later, Tokyo

It’s a hot summer day without a cloud in the sky. A cool breeze comes and goes, helping to alleviate the heat, while the foliage shines brightly like emeralds against the sun. A tall, handsome man with chestnut brown hair trailing down past his shoulders fixes the tie of his black suit and takes one last look in the mirror of his walk-in closet. 

His best friend, Takahiro, knocks on the closed bedroom door, “Hey Nephrite, are you ready?”

Nephrite calls in return, “Just about.” He throws on his black blazer and exits the bedroom, joining Takahiro in front of Natsumi’s shrine, jarringly traditional compared to the rest of his minimalist apartment. 

Nephrite looks longingly at his mother’s photo, “She would have been pretty old by now, her skin all saggy…”

Takahiro turns to Nephrite and sarcastically says, “I think you’ve aged plenty for the both of you, pissing around as much as you do.”

They both softly chuckle. 

“Thank you again for doing this,” says Nephrite. Takahiro nods in return. Both men kneel and Nephrite pours out a cup of sake. Once again he stares with sorrow at his mother’s picture, remembering one of his last moments with her, “Nephrite…”

“I don’t want to move to Tokyo! I want to live here with you and Sora and become head chef of our restaurant.”

“Grow up, Nephrite. You can’t just dream of living this tiny life here at the restaurant.”

“You told me before that your dream is to make people happy with your food and that’s my dream too!”

Natsumi, fighting back tears, manages to find her voice, “My mother died as your grandmother’s housekeeper. I want to live as her daughter-in-law. I know that’s what your dad would have wanted and that’s my dream. Now stop crying and let’s go.”

“NO! I’M NOT LEAVING!”

“Nephrite…”

He snaps out of his daze, “I’m sorry, Mom. I feel really bad that you didn’t get to achieve your dream. Here, have a drink,” and placed the cup beside her photo. 

 

Meanwhile at D-Point Hospital, Zoisite, dressed in his long white doctor’s coat, hurriedly walks down a corridor. He finds an empty bed and asks the nearest nurse, “Where is the patient?” 

Before she answers, he follows the IV line with his eyes and crouches down to see his patient, cowering in fetal position with her hands over her ears.

Zoisite musters his kindest tone, “What are you doing down here? Why are you lying under the bed?” She doesn’t respond. 

He rolls his eyes and continues, “We don’t have time to play a game of hide-and-seek here. Please come on out now.” Still no response. 

He stands up and checks the patient’s chart and slams it closed, “I shouldn’t be treating this patient. Call a psychiatrist,” and stamps off.

The nurse bends down to address the patient, “Excuse me, Miss?”

The head nurse can see there’s some issue going on and walks over to help. She taps the nurse on the shoulder, indicating she can take over from here. 

She bends down, “Miss Kino? It’s me, nurse Sato. You look so much better than last time you were here! When I first met you many years ago, it seemed your condition would never improve, but you haven’t had an episode for a whole year now, so that’s something to be proud of. WIll you speak to me, Miss Kino?”

Makoto’s eyes come back to life as she slowly takes her hands from her ears and looks at the nurse. She stands up from underneath the bed and lays down on top of it instead.

As nurse Sato covers Makoto with blankets, she continues, “You’re doing so much better now! Who knows how long it’ll be before you’re back, if you ever come back,” and gives her a warm smile. 

Makoto sheepishly replies, “That’s thanks to the people in this hospital who are nice like you. Except for one.”

Nurse Sato chuckles, “You mean Dr. Kurokami? I heard he lost family members in the same accident that you were in. He never talks about it though, hates to, so we can never speak of it when he’s around. Maybe that’s why he is so rude to you, you might remind him of his grief.”  

The nurse hands her a cup of water and a small capsule, “This medicine will make you drowsy, so try to get some rest.”

 

Later that day, Nephrite walks through the entrance to D-Point Hospital, and comes to witness a fight between a couple. The woman is pleading with her spouse, clinging onto his wrist, while he tries to shake her off. Nephrite approaches and pushes the man away from her with such strength that he falls to the ground. 

Nephrite immediately turns his attention to the woman, “Were you just discharged from the hospital?”

The woman, looking dazed and confused, doesn’t respond. 

Her spouse picks himself up off the floor and yells to the woman, “Hey, who is this jerk?”

Nephrite holds the woman's head and tries to steady her shaky movements, “Can you see my face? Can you hear me?” 

The woman still doesn’t respond. 

The man’s anger increases, “What's going on? Have you been cheating on me with this asshole, you stupid bitch?!”

The woman passes out and Nephrite scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the emergency room. 

The spouse yells after him, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going with her? Put her down right now!”

Nephrite scowls at the man and kicks him in the leg, “I’m not putting her down, you idiot. You’re not helping the situation so why don’t you leave and find yourself a new girlfriend.” As the man tries to come up with a retort, Nephrite wastes no time in taking her to the emergency room.

 

The woman Nephrite brought in is quickly brought to imaging and placed in an MRI machine. Zoisite rushes down the hall to the MRI station. He takes a look at the patient’s brain scan on the monitors and turns to the technician with a worried tone, “What happened?”

The technician replies, “She’s Hina Saito who was discharged earlier today. These scans indicate that she has a brain bleed.”

Zoisite’s eyes widen as panic takes him over, “Who brought in this patient?”

The technician stumbles to find his words, “Well…”

Zoisite storms out of the room and searches the hospital for Nephrite. He finally finds Nephrite and shouts from down the hall, “Did you bring her in? Hina Saito?”

Nephrite stops walking, turns around and sarcastically blurts out, “You must be so tired from being overworked. A diligent doctor such as yourself never fails to notice such details,” and walks off. But just before he is out of reach, Zoisite grabs him by the arm and says with suspicion and anger, “Have you been following me around? Do you spend all of your time searching for my mistakes?”

Nephrite rolls his eyes, scoffs, and says mockingly, “Thank you, Nephrite, for doing me a solid and catching my error. Dinner’s on me.” He sighs and changes to a dry demeanor, “I’m guessing that’s what you meant to say, so I’ll make some time for it. I want ribs. Beef, not pork.”

Having reviewed the brain scans, Nephrite and his team prepare themselves for neurosurgery. Other health professionals prepare the patient and rush her to an operating room. The surgery proceeds smoothly until he spots the problem. Suddenly, the beeping coming from the vitals machine starts racing.

 “Aneurysm rupture!”, frantically shouts an attending doctor, “Blood pressure is dropping!”

Without breaking concentration, Nephrite asks, “What’s her blood pressure?”

“80/40 and dropping quickly.” 

“Increase suction!”

As Nephrite is zoned into the surgery, a memory suddenly pops into his mind, “You said you wanted to become a chef. Didn't you tell me that your dream was to become head chef of your mom’s restaurant?”

Nephrite takes a deep breath and continues working, “I remember when I was young, my mother once told me that I shouldn’t keep things that don’t belong to me. So this pain, this anger, this hopelessness that I feel, that constantly torments me, doesn’t belong to me. I will purge myself of all of it and find a way out of this hell.” 

The patient flat-lines and the doctors perform CPR for what seems like an eternity. Nephrite finally accepts the reality of the situation, and with a heavy heart starts recording the patient’s name along with the date and time of death.

A doctor pats him on the shoulder and says consolingly, “Even Doctor Nakamura declined performing this surgery. Please don’t beat yourself up.”

After ripping off his surgical gear and cleaning himself up, he rushes to the nearest bathroom, huddles over the toilet, and pukes and dry heaves until the last of his energy is spent. Finally gathering himself together, he walks out of the bathroom and runs into a comforting face. 

“Hey Nephrite,” says Takahiro smiling, holding up a big bag of take-out.

The two men find a bench in the back garden area and place the food between them. As Takahiro starts opening the containers he says, “It’s from a restaurant near my workplace. The lady who cooks there is amazing. Have you had lunch yet?”

Nephrite fiddles with his chopsticks, “You know, I think this is my first meal today,” he says, realizing the intensity of his hunger, and starts shovelling food into his mouth. He smiles, “It’s good!”

As they eat, Takahiro scoffs as a thought suddenly pops into his mind, “What’s the point of being the grandson of a very wealthy woman if you have to hold your mom’s memorial in secret and never find time to take care of yourself?” He stands up and moves away a short distance before dousing Nephrite with body spray. 

“Hey! Stop that,” Nephrite irritatedly yells.

“I can’t stand the smell of disinfectant on you,” replies Takahiro.

Neph scowls and rubs some off of his neck, “You crazy jerk! Cut it out and take a bite of this,” he says, holding up his chopsticks as he feeds a piece of meat to Takahiro. A short time passes but before they can finish their meal, Takahiro is called back to work and quickly leaves. Nephrite walks back inside to wash his hands. 

 

Meanwhile, Makoto is suddenly woken up by a phone call. Not wanting to disturb the quiet atmosphere for the other hospital patients in the room, she puts her greasy hair into a shaggy ponytail, throws on some flip flops, grabs her IV bag, places it on top of her head, and walks outside dressed in her pyjamas. 

“Yeah, the surgery went well,” Makoto says, lying to her boss, “I’m outside taking a walk right now, I’m totally fine. An appendectomy barely qualifies as surgery these days.”

She walks down the stairs leading to the hospital garden area as the phone call continues, “That’s quite kind of you, but you don’t need to visit. My brother is on his way as we speak. Oh! Sounds like you have a customer so I should let you go. Thank you for the call, bye now.” She quickly hangs up the phone and sighs in relief. Suddenly, the scent of delicious food passes her by and she takes a look around to find Nephrite’s takeout just sitting unattended on a bench. She looks around and thinks, “My goodness, I’m suddenly so hungry! Did someone just throw this away?” She inches closer and closer, “Seriously, the trash can is close by, doesn’t anyone care about the environment?” As she approaches the bench, she takes one last look around, and upon finding no one in sight, she sits down to treat herself to a meal. She picks up Nephrite’s chopsticks and turns them upside down. “What a waste,” she says while holding up a piece of meat, “It would be a crime to let the best part go to waste...” 

She eats a piece of meat and moans in delight, “It’s so delicious!” She eats another piece and closes her eyes, letting the flavours dance on her tongue, savoring each moment. 

“Did the hospital staff forget to bring your meal?”, says a man from behind her.

Startled, Makoto chokes down her last bite before standing up. Before she can explain herself, she immediately points to the water bottle Nephrite is holding and he hands it over to her. She gulps half of it down, gives it back, and says, “I thought it was abandoned food. And honestly, who leaves the best part?” She says, gesturing to the meat. 

“I didn’t intend to throw it away. I was planning on finishing it after I saw my friend off.”

“Oh no. This is your food?” She says in shock, covering her mouth with her hand.

Nephrite smirks, “Would you like to have some more?”

She declines out of embarrassment and he starts to pack up the food. 

She catches sight of his ID tag dangling around his neck and gasps in shock, “Nephrite Kurokami?!” 

He slowly looks up at her in confusion, “Do you know me?”

Ignoring his question, she searches her memories, “Who was it again?”

He gives her a strange look and walks off.

Watching him walk away, she squints and looks up, “I’m pretty sure I know that name from somewhere…” 

 

Makoto makes her way back to her hospital room and finds her brother, having just arrived. 

“Woah, Makoto, you look like you haven't showered in days,” Shinichi teases.

“It’s that bad?”

“Well, you have major eye crusties for one.”

“Oh crap,” she exclaims and immediately starts rubbing her eyes. 

“And don’t even get me started on your greasy hair and your uneven buttoning job. Are you trying to start a new fashion trend?”

She fiddles with her pyjamas, feeling embarrassed.

Shinichi continues to point out issues, “And what’s with all the stains? You’re such a mess.”

“I can’t believe he saw me like this, I should have at least changed.”

“Wait, who saw you?”

She gives him the biggest sad-puppy pouty face imaginable and softly wails, “My dream man.” 

Shinichi rolls his eyes, “Oh you can’t be serious. Him? As in your first love that you couldn’t shut up about when you were a kid, him? Are you sure that was him?”

She sighs and deflates, “He has the same name… Nephrite Kurokami.”

He scoffs, “You think it’s him because they have the same name? There are tons of people in the world who have the same name…” He pauses and thinks for a moment, “Actually, that’s not a common name at all.”

“He even looks the same. He was so cute as a kid, how did he grow up to be even better looking?”

He smiles in amusement, “Even if he is, I doubt anything will come of it now.”

She sits upright on her bed, staring intently at him, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he says, savouring his time teasing his sister, “You were a disheveled wreck when you met him.” 

She deflates again, “And he caught me eating his takeout on a park bench.” 

He whistles and shakes his head, “You really are a mess.”

She throws her hands up in the air in exasperation, “Of all the times in my life I could have run into him, why did it have to be now!” 

She suddenly switches her demeanor and tries to convince herself, “You know what, I bet you’re right. They probably just have the same name.”

 

As Shinichi takes off, Makoto attempts to spy on Nephrite. She spots him walking toward the nurse’s station and watches him read over a patient’s chart.

He does look like him," Makoto thinks to herself, “Is it him?”  

As Nephrite walks around the station, Makoto moves to try to keep out of his sight. He spots her in his peripheral vision, keeping an eye on her. 

Worried he might catch her spying on him, Makoto quickly leaves and makes it to the elevators. Looking at her reflection in her black phone screen, she quietly gives herself a pep talk, “What are you doing? What if it isn’t him? Oh goodness, what if it is him? Okay, let’s calm down and think this through. I saw him up close and I don’t think it’s him, so let’s stop this now.”

As she looks down to press the elevator button, the IV bag that was precariously balanced on her head falls to the ground with a resounding smack. As she bends down to pick it up, Nephrite, already holding the IV bag, hands it to her. She looks up at him and shrieks in surprise, jumping back slightly. Bowing frantically in appreciation, she turns and tries to dart away, but instantly stops and winces in pain as the needle jerks out of her arm; she never took the IV bag from Nephrite. 

They walk over together to a patient room so Nephrite can reinsert IV line. As he fiddles with her arm, Makoto catches a glimpse of his left forearm, seeing burned skin. A thought pops into her mind, “I heard Nephrite waited a long time for you. He even burned his arm making chocolates for you.” She stares at him with wide eyes. As he finishes up, he says in a dry tone, “I’m not interested in dating currently, and even if I was, I have absolutely no time for it. I’m telling you so you don’t bother wasting your time. And you should be using your energy to rest and recover, not running around the hospital spying on me. Hope you feel better soon.” And without so much as a second glance or pause, he walks out of the room. Makoto, unable to fully process everything that happened, sits and stares in shock.

 

A short time passes and Makoto is discharged from the hospital. Wearing a green and tan linen dress with a soft pink blanket scarf wrapped around her shoulders, she walks through the hospital entrance doors to find her brother waiting for her with his car.

Just before they get in, Shinichi hands her a bottle of water, “It’s blessed water from Mt. Fuji. Spray this in all directions when you get home and you’ll never be hospitalized again.”

“Shinichi, are you still seeing that mystic? Oh, all this talk about water has me needing to pee again. I’ll be right back,” and runs off to the nearest bathroom. As she walks down the corridor to the bathrooms, she hears Nephrite and Zoisite having an argument and quickly hides out of sight.

Zoisite grabs Nephrite by the collar and shoves him up against a wall, “What did you say? You evil bastard!” 

Nephrite smirks and scoffs, “You’re already saying that?” and shoves Zoisite’s hands off him, “I haven’t even begun yet.” 

As Zoisite shouts Nephrite’s name in anger so loud that it echoes down the hall, Nephrite victoriously walks off, too wrapped up in the situation to notice Makoto hiding ineffectively behind a plant.

Zoisite’s words echo in her head, “ You evil bastard!” Thoughts of Nephrite as a boy come streaming in, “ Come back for lunch. If you do, I’ll make you Chocolate Shasha.”

As she slowly walks back to the car, she thinks to herself, “ He used to be such an angel who gave me one of the warmest and happiest memories of my childhood. But someone just called that angel an ‘evil bastard’, so what happened to him over all these years? What happened to the boy who was so kind to me when we were young?”

 

Twilight falls over the city as Beryl, Tourmaline, Kimiko, Zoisite, and his aunt, Pyrite, sit down to a family dinner at Beryl’s penthouse apartment. The high ceiling is adorned with golden crown moulding and fancy crystal chandeliers. The walls are tiled with cream coloured marble and the floor-to-ceiling windows display the twinkling lights of the city. The family is gathered around a sumptuous feast covering half of a massive black marble dining table. Beryl, sitting at the head of the table in her throne, starts up a conversation with Zoisite about her favourite sport, baseball. 

Zoisite continues, “I guess you never really know, Grandma. Look at Daichi Kobayashi, no one ever thought he would wreck his former team the way he did,” and lets out a judgmental chuckle. Beryl replies in agreement, “Yes, they were quite conceited because they had a lot of talented catchers.”

Pyrite, confused and irritated that no one is paying attention to her, interrupts their conversation, “Who is Daichi Kobayashi?”

Kimiko replies as if it was obvious, “He’s a catcher for the Giants and was recently traded from the Tigers.” 

She scoffs in response, “How do you know that? You don’t even enjoy baseball. But I guess the position of vice-president is easier than it looks, with all this free time you seem to have.”

Kimiko smugly replies, “I know how much Mother loves baseball, so just like any loving family member would, I did my research.” 

Pyrite glares, “Of course you would say that. You need to do everything you can to win favour with my mom.” She turns to Zoisite and sarcastically says, “It must be so difficult to force yourself to study baseball when you have more important things to do.”

Zoisite turns to her and examines her face, “Do you need me to introduce you to a good plastic surgeon? Your botox is already wearing off and it’s only been a week.” He picks up his wine glass and swirls it around, “You come from a family of doctors. You can’t just go to see anyone, it makes you, and us, look bad.” 

Embarrassed and offended, Pyrite pulls out her pocket mirror from her sequin purse. As she obsesses over her appearance, Nephrite enters.

“I’m sorry for being late,” he says as he bows to Beryl. 

Pyrite, her concentration broken, barks, “What took you so long to finally come home?”

Without bothering to answer, he sits down near her, making sure to leave an empty seat in between.

Pyrite continues, “Zoisite was busy winning brownie points with your grandmother while you were taking your sweet time.” 

Utterly exhausted, he responds, “I had an urgent patient.”

“You should work less and brush up on your grandma’s interests, like baseball.”

While Pyrite berates Nephrite, Beryl turns to Zoisite and asks, “What do you think of Hisato Matsumoto?”

“Hayato Tanaka will return in a few years, and they already have the best backup catcher. The free agent will cost about ¥80,000,000 and I don’t think he’s worth it.”

As Beryl takes a moment to think, Nephrite jumps into the conversation, “I think he’s worth it.”

Silence falls over the room as everyone turns their attention to Nephrite.

“Hisato Matsumoto is the best catcher in the NPB. He has a batting average of 0.27 and can play throughout an entire season. Some say he can be too aggressive,” Kimiko and Tourmaline glance worriedly at each other as Nephrite continues, “But his Caught Stealing Percentage was 0.355 last year and he was ranked in the top three this year. Even if there’s a rising star, an experienced player is still needed. Pitchers can become unstable if they can't trust their catchers,” and shoots Zoisite an aggressive look.

Beryl smirks, “You’re correct, Nephrite. Hisato Matsumoto is the best in the game. Spending even ¥100,000,000 isn’t a waste on a player like him.”

Nephrite confidently and satisfyingly takes a swig of red wine. Zoisite forces a smile, upset at being upstaged. Noticing the tension, Tourmaline attempts to turn the mood around, “Say Mom, did you know that Nephrite will be leaving for Libya next month?”, and shoots Nephrite a devious smile. 

Both Nephrite and Zoisite stop eating and stare at Tourmaline. With quiet disbelief and wide-eyed panic Nephrite whispers, “Uncle!” 

Pyrite obnoxiously jumps in, “Isn’t Libya extremely dangerous because of the civil war? It’s full of shootings and bombings and you’re actually sending him there?”

Kimiko sharply retorts, “We have an affiliated hospital there where we have been sending our doctors for a while now. The news completely exaggerates what’s happening over there, it’s really not that bad.”

Beryl leans toward Nephrite, “Nephrite, have you agreed to this?”

Tourmaline jumps in before Nephrite can get a word in, “It’s already been decided and approved.”

Nephrite, feeling betrayed, angrily blurts out, “When?”

“At the executive’s meeting yesterday. See, most doctors have a family to support so they avoid volunteering to go. It’s up to our family to set an example.” He laughs as if he had won the upper hand, “You know Nephrite, it’s noblesse oblige.” 

Pyrite plays devil’s advocate, “Have you considered Zoisite? Why shouldn’t he set an example as well?”

Kimiko jumps in with yet another prepared answer, “We need him here to carry on the family name in case anything happens.” And with an authoritative tone she scolds Pyrite, “You better stop talking and finish your food, it’s getting cold.”

Everyone awkwardly goes back to eating. Nephrite just stares out across the table, eyes glossy and out of focus, dazed and confused, and starting to feel the weight of the mission placed on him.

 

Meanwhile, Makoto arrives home and turns on the lights in her small one-bedroom apartment. Throwing her bag onto a chair, she kicks off her shoes and walks to the fridge. She opens the fridge to reach for some water, but stops suddenly and grabs the box of Godiva chocolates instead. She takes the lid off to reveal six big chocolate truffles, glistening from condensation. Leaning back on the lip of the kitchen sink, she carefully lifts a truffle out of the box and a rush of traumatic memories swirl around her. Images of an enormous vertical shopping mall suddenly and violently collapsing in on itself. Huge blocks of concrete and rebar falling with a deafening crash. A young Makoto, stuck between slabs of concrete, cries out for help. A woman grabs her hand and tells her, “You have to make it out of here alive.”

Coming back to reality, she takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and responds, “Thank you. I’ll live life to the fullest.” She opens her eyes and takes a bite of the chocolate. With her sweet tooth not fully satisfied, she grabs her green bandana with a pink bow and her chef’s apron, and starts creating in the kitchen. With steel bowls and cake pans lined across her counter-top, she mixes chocolate batter with her electric hand mixer. As she pours her batter into greased cake pans, she recalls a memory from her teenagehood, “When I grow up, I’m going to become a chef who makes delicious food for those who starve and suffer. Once I finally get out of here.” She puts her cake tins into the oven and asks them, “Please turn out, little cake! I could really use a pick-me-up right about now.”

It’s not long before the cake timer starts beeping and she takes her cakes out of the oven to place on a cooling rack. As she waits for them to cool, she pours hot cream over chocolate, letting it melt into a ganache. While making cake decorations, she thinks to herself, “ Since that day, whenever I feel a deep sorrow or hopelessness in my heart, I’ve always turned to chocolate for comfort.”

The thought of young Nephrite offering to make Chocolate Shasha immediately jumps back into her head, as does the instance she recognized him as an adult, “ I was so smitten with him as a kid. I can’t believe I forgot about him for all these years… and now that I’ve finally met him again, how could I think that I would quickly forget about him after leaving the hospital?” After assembling her cake, she cuts herself a huge slice and falls asleep watching her favourite movie. 

 

***

 

The weather starts to change as the days pass into autumn. Stuck in traffic on a day of particularly heavy rain, Makoto stares out the window, lost in thought. 

“We’ll be late,” the driver says as she turns to Makoto.

Snapping out of her daze, Makoto responds, “Sorry?”

“Won’t you miss your bus? There’s an accident at the crosswalk, so we’ll be here a while.”

“What happened?”

“Looks like an old man’s cart full of cardboard fell apart.”

She spots an old man picking up soggy cardboard boxes scattered all over the crosswalk. Makoto immediately unbuckles her belt and just about open the door when she’s pulled back by the driver.

“I’m going to go help him,” Makoto firmly announces.

“Don’t go outside, you’ll get soaked. Just stay inside the car. Look, no one is out there helping.”

Contrary to her words, a tall man with a grey and red umbrella steps out of his car and rushes over to aid the old man. Makoto intently watches from the car as she spots Nephrite handing his umbrella to the old man. Hair soaking wet, he gestures at the man to relax and starts picking up cardboard. In one swift motion, Makoto opens the car door and steps out.

“Makoto!” the driver calls out, “Where do you think you’re going? Come back inside!”

She walks closer to the obstruction, watching Nephrite, “ I’ve never been more sure in my life that he was my first love, the love of my life.”

She approaches and starts helping. As she gathers up the cardboard, she strategically hides her face from Nephrite, not wanting to deal with any confrontation, just wanting to savour the moment. “ I used to imagine what kind of man he would grow up to be. And he’s more than I ever dreamed of.”

She bends down to pick up another piece of cardboard and takes a moment to watch Nephrite. Water droplets bounce off the wet curly strands of hair around his face, carrying a look of determination. 

I don’t want to hide from my feelings anymore. I want to be honest with myself.”

Chocolate= A Sailor Moon Retelling (In The Rain)

Chapter Text

A sudden burst of fireworks lights up the night sky! A new year has come to fill people’s hearts with ambition and hope. Towns and cities across the country are celebrating with music, dancing, and parade floats lining their streets, while others ring temple bells and release lanterns into the first sunrise of the new year. 

As the sun rises, the fisherman and his dog, Sora, walk along the wharf in their hometown of Hirado. He stops to watch the sunrise and remembers some of young Nephrite’s last words to him, “Don’t be sad! I’ll come back to Hirado before you know it, so you don’t need to miss me too much.”

 

“Don’t be worried,” says Makoto to her mirror image in the bathroom at D-Point hospital, “It’s a new year and a new me.” 

She lightly taps her cheeks with both hands, “I can do this!” 

She leaves the bathroom and walks over to General Admitting. 

“Can I help you?” Says the attending nurse. 

“You know, I’ve been battling terrible migraines for a few weeks now and I went to a walk-in clinic, but to no avail,” she lets out a nervous chuckle. 

The nurse pulls up a schedule on her computer, “Unfortunately Dr. Suzuki is not accepting any new patients at this time. If this is urgent, please wait in emergency for the next available doctor.”

“Oh, actually I’d like to see Dr. Nephrite Kurokami.”

“I’m very sorry but Dr. Kurokami left for Libya a few days ago.”

Completely wide-eyed and shocked, she barely finds her voice and whispers, “What?”

---

A sudden burst of sound fills the air as bomber jets appear in the sky. War has come to Libya, filled with death and devastation. Nephrite steps out of the tiny hospital van to a jarring experience. The horizon is lined red with fire; half of the town is ablaze. He hears the screams of pain and loss from injured people begging for help, nearly drowned out by the roar of planes rushing past overhead. With no time to process his situation, Nephrite snaps out of his shock as best he can and rushes up the stairs of a nearby building to help evacuate citizens as it starts to crumble. He sees many people huddled together in small groups, crying out in pain and fear. He helps a frail woman crouched beside a window and starts to escort her out, when an explosion hits the building with a deafening “BANG!” Both of them are hurled forward and slam against the ground. With his ears ringing and his vision slightly blurry, Nephrite fights to stay conscious. Lucky to be alive with only a few scratches, he stands up and checks on the woman who is now lying in a limp heap. Fighting off panic and tears, he carries the lady in his arms out of the building and into the ambulance. 

 

Months pass as Nephrite volunteers his time away at the rundown hospital. The halls are poorly lit and smell of mildew while the rooms are small and doorless, with barred windows. Each morning he walks through the entrance is reminded of walking into a jail. 

“Fitting,” he thinks dryly, “Since I’m here against my will.” 

The hospital has minimal equipment, is completely understaffed, and packed with casualties. A woman covered in blood reaches out and grabs Nephrite’s leg, “Sir, can you please help?” She says in Arabic. “Can you please take a look? My son is severely injured.” She points to her son, lying unconscious on the floor. 

Nephrite performs a quick body assessment and decides the best course of action for treatment is surgery. He changes into scrubs and performs surgery on the child, sewing stitches in the side of his head. 

After too long of a shift at the hospital, Nephrite is driven back to his lodgings. He is taken to the outskirts of town, a dry grassy field with some sturdy green bushes scattered about. He walks out of his minimalistic room to see three young kids playing in the dirt. He chuckles, happy to see some simple joy in this world. He watches them dig holes and giggle as he lights up a cigarette. Taking a long drag, he breathes out, and relaxes into the pleasure. He watches the kids through the smoky haze and sees one of them find something in the dirt and start to play with it. Nephrite’s hazy daze quickly leaves him as he recognizes what it is, “HEY! NO! DON’T TOUCH THAT!” But it’s too late, the mortar shell explodes in that small child’s hands, instantly killing all three children. The windows and doors shatter, sending bits of glass and wood everywhere. Nephrite is blown back by the force and slams into a concrete pillar. 

***

6 months later - Summer

 

Months fly by as Makoto buries herself in her work. So completely focused, she knows where every pot, pan, dish, knife, and ingredient is by memory. One day at work, while washing a pile of fruits and vegetables, she daydreams of Nephrite and the war in Libya. Scenes of Nephrite, badly injured, laying in his hospital bed run through her mind as she starts frying the steak. “Six months without any news about Nephrite, and now I hear that he was so badly injured, he might not make it home…”

She imagines walking down D-Point Hospital’s courtyard steps and sitting down at the same bench where she first saw Nephrite. He magically appears, dressed in grey scrubs with a red trim and walks over, sitting down on the other side of the bench. She turns toward him and smiles shyly. “Hello,” she says, and he stays silent. She continues, “I heard you were critically injured... I was curious about you, I wanted to know more about the time you spent growing up without me. I wanted to see if you would remember me.” He looks up at the sky, still saying nothing. She lets out a small giggle, “I’m also curious about this ‘Chocolate Shasha’ dessert you said you’d make for me.” She stares longingly at him while fighting her heartache, “I want to know more about you; what you’ve been through while growing up, your treasured and heartbreaking memories, I want to know it all.” Tears start to stream down her face, “So please, please Nephrite, come home alive and let me hear everything about you.” He shimmers and fades slowly away, as she hears her name being called in the distance.

---

It’s been a fresh new year for D-Point Hospital and fittingly Tourmaline has treated himself to a nice big office, complete with lavish black leather furniture, wall-mounted TV, and a huge plaque of D-Point’s logo engraved onto gold hung on the wall behind his desk. He leans back on his office chair taking in the luxury, when Zoisite suddenly explodes through the door.

“What is going on?” Zoisite yells at his father.

“Whatever do you mean?” Tourmaline lightheartedly responds. 

“Did you decide to take Nephrite off life support?” 

Tourmaline takes off his glasses and gives him a stern look, “Your all-wise grandmother Beryl made that decision. I assume you’ve heard that Nephrite won’t make it.”

“NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT HE’LL MAKE IT!!!” 

“Zoisite!” Tourmaline scolds. 

“I swear Dad, leave Nephrite alone or you’ll be sorry. I won’t just sit back and watch,” he says with a vengeance.

Halfway through storming out, Zoisite stops and without turning around says, “You know what Dad? You didn’t have to send Nephrite to Libya like the biggest coward in the world. I know I could beat him, I know I’m better than him.” 

And with fire in his eyes, he turns around and shouts, “I could have crushed him with my talent and skill! We all know you were no match against your brother, but I’m different. I’m not a big incompetant failure like you.” Resuming his storm off, he slams the door so hard that a painting on the wall adjacent falls to the ground with a loud crack. 

“That stupid little brat. How rude.”

 

As Zoisite storms out of his father’s office in his ever-graceful manner, he finds Nephrite’s friend Takahiro, standing just outside the office. “What are you doing here?” Zoisite snaps.

“I’m here to plead on behalf of Nephrite’s life, so your father can give Nephrite a fighting chance.”

Zoisite, having no available space for anyone else’s emotions, just turns and walks away.

Takahiro shouts at him, “How can your family hate him so much? Were you that frightened about this hospital becoming his down the road that you had sent him off to his death?!”

Zoisite whips around defensively, “You said you’re here to beg from my dad. So do that, and leave.” 

“Nephrite’s blood is on you and your family’s hands, he ended up this way because of you!” Takahiro yells as tears stream down his face.

Zoisite stomps over and slams him up against the wall, “Did I fucking stutter? Do what you came for and leave, you prick.”

Takahiro, feeling the full heat of his rage, grabs Zoisite by the collar and pulls his face closer, “Your family did nothing when his mother passed away. You all just swept it under the rug, denying a funeral, let alone a proper burial. You pretended she never existed while he cried to your face and you acted like nothing was wrong! You cremated his mother and wiped her existence out without a trace!” 

Seeing a chance to spread his hurt feelings around, he callously replies, “My family was embarrassed of her. That woman, Nephrite’s mother, was an embarrassing flaw we had to hide.”

“Regardless, you never gave Nephrite the chance to properly say goodbye! She doesn’t even have a grave he can visit!”

With a fiercely cold look in his eyes, Zoisite responds, “I guess they knew that would happen, that Nephrite would never be able to visit her.” He brushes Takahiro’s hands from his collar and walks off. Confused and in even more pain, Takahiro whispers, “What?” And he falls to his knees, weeping uncontrollably.

 

Night falls, and Makoto decides to walk over and sit at that hospital park bench she was daydreaming about. While looking around and wallowing in her own misery, she notices a defeated-looking young man walk down the hospital steps. For a brief moment, her heart flickers, imagining it to be Nephrite. Takahiro sits down at a nearby bench and softly cries to himself. 

“I’m not the only miserable soul wandering around these parts,” Makoto thinks to herself. She rummages around in her bag, finding a pack of tissues. Standing up, she walks over to him, places the package down on the bench without acknowledging him, and continues walking. 

“Did an angel just gracefully float by and gift me with tissues?” Takahiro thinks to himself, completely enchanted with Makoto, watching her walk away.

 

The next evening, Makoto tirelessly works through her shift, kneading dough while her mind wanders elsewhere. Her boss comes over, “Makoto, your brother is here.” She takes no notice and absentmindedly continues to knead the dough. “Hey, Makoto!” Her boss shouts, while tapping her on the shoulder. 

She snaps out of it, “Sorry?”

“Your brother is here,” her boss says once again, with emphasis. Grabbing Makoto by the shoulders, she turns her around and pushes her toward the entrance to the dining area.

Slightly frazzled, Makoto brushes her apron off and walks over to where her brother is seated. 

As she approaches the table, Makoto irritatedly calls out, “Shinichi!”

“OH!” He exclaims in overemphasized delight as he stands up. The man sitting with him also stands, straightening his dark blue pinstripe suit. He quickly combs his overly gelled hair back and sprays breath freshener in his mouth. Shinichi springs into action like a television host, “This is my sister, Makoto Kino, a beautiful chef who puts her heart and soul into everything she cooks.”

“Hello gorgeous,” the man says with an air of sleazy confidence, “I’ve heard so much about you.”

She politely gives a shallow bow. As Shinichi gestures for everyone to sit, Mako hits him in the arm and gives him a dirty look. He responds by widening his eyes in embarrassment, thinking she’s annoyed at his forgetting to introduce the suitor.

“You know the biggest steak house in the country, right? They are doing so well they were able to franchise and are now raking in loads of money! He is the eldest son of that family.” Shinichi flashes a huge grin. Makoto dryly responds with irritation in her face, “Enjoy your meal.” 

She then turns to the man, politely addressing him despite her rising irritation, “It was nice to meet you.” And again, she courteously bows and walks away.

Before she gets far the man blurts out, “You cook as well as run the restaurant? Sounds like it would be difficult to juggle both.” 

Makoto stops, turns around, and walks over to him. Glaring and barely holding back her thunderous anger, Makoto says, “Is that so?”

Shinichi jumps in immediately to quell the tension, “Oh ho ho! Sounds like you know the trade! Even though this restaurant may seem small, running a business is serious stuff and she’s doing it by herself!” 

He leans toward the man, “Honestly, there’s a lineup around the block of men wanting to date her, but it’s my duty to protect her and make sure her boyfriend exceeds my standards, like you do. Wouldn’t it--”

Pushed to the limits of her irritation, Makoto pulls her brother’s shoulder back, “And just who is it you’re talking about?”

Shinichi, oblivious to her anger, responds seriously, “You, obviously.” 

He continues to brag about his sister, “You know, everyone said she’d win the Miss Photogenic award if she entered the Miss Japan beauty pageant. Everyone tried to convince her to participate but she refused because she’s always had such a confident mindset.” 

Shinichi continues, growing in volume as if announcing to the whole restaurant, “In this shallow society, she’s vehemently against judging people based solely on their looks--”

Her rage now fully unleashed, Makoto smacks Shinichi upside the head, yelling, “Enough!”

She sighs and turns to the man, asking, “What’s your name?”

“Reo Yamamoto.” 

Mr. Yamamoto, I’m so sorry this punk has wasted your time. He is trying to dupe you. Have you loaned him any money yet?”

“Not yet,” he replies. 

“He’ll likely ask you if he can borrow some money very soon and I can assure you he won’t pay you back, so don’t do it.” 

Makoto’s irritation starts rising again and she feels the need to dispel her brother’s lies, “And another thing, I don’t own this restaurant. I work here on salary like the other chefs. I spend one-third of my income on debt repayment because of all the trouble my idiot brother causes!”

Shinichi jumps in, feeling embarrassed, “Makoto, stop lying!”

She ignores him and continues, “And the only reason I considered entering the Miss Japan pageant is for the cash prize. But as you can see, I’m not model material so I gave up after they ridiculed me for trying out!”

She quickly turns around and walks away, feeling exposed and upset, trying to find some place to let her tears flow without anyone seeing. Amidst all the commotion, Takahiro, dining there in hope of seeing Makoto, having caught sight of this tragic display of courtship, decides to aid her in her time of need. 

Makoto takes a moment to sit outside the restaurant and breathe some fresh air to calm down. Takahiro approaches and grabs something from his backpack. Before he reaches her, she gets up and walks towards him. They bow politely at each other and as she passes he turns around, “This is yours, isn’t it?”

Makoto turns around to find him with her wallet, “Where did you find this? I didn’t even know I lost it.”

“I was going to return your tissues to you as well since you were so kind to give them to me in my time of need.”

Makoto’s memory is suddenly jogged, “Ah right, the park bench at the hospital. How did you know it was mine?”

He opens her wallet and points, “It has your business card inside.”

She politely responds, “Thank you very much. I don’t have a lot of cash on me right now but I can transfer you some reward money.”

“I heard some incredibly happy news as soon as I arrived at this restaurant. A miracle happened to my friend, whom I was so upset over yesterday, so that’s all the reward I need.”

She looks at him curiously, “A miracle?”

“It’s all thanks to you. By losing your wallet, I was able to come all the way to this restaurant, Primo Miracolo or ‘The First Miracle’ and then a miracle happened.” He smiles, bows, and cheerfully walks on his way.

Thinking about the idea of miracles, she walks back to the restaurant and stops at the entryway. Looking at the restaurant sign, Primo Miracolo, she intertwines her hands and closes her eyes, “Please gift Nephrite with a miracle as well.”

 

Another day passes and Makoto is back at work again, igniting and tossing sauce in a heated pan. A server comes up to her, “Hey Makoto, someone is asking to see the chef, and don’t worry it’s not your brother.” She sets the pan aside and walks out of the kitchen to greet the customer. She notices it’s Takahiro and is surprised to see him again so soon. He greets her with a kind smile and head bow, “Hello.”

She bows in return, feeling relieved that it's not someone here to yell at her, but also hesitant as she’s not sure why he called her over.

She guesses he wants the food explained to him, “Ah, so your meal is a ricotta cheese salad with yuzu dressing...” 

Not listening to a word, Takahiro stares longingly into her eyes. His kind eyes and charming smile mesmerize her, and she becomes so caught up in his loving gaze that she trails off. She snaps out of it and pours him a glass of wine, “Enjoy your meal.” 

 

Determined to have Makoto notice him, Takahiro once again dines alone at the restaurant the very next day. In the kitchen, Makoto oils a heated pan and places a piece of meat on it to fry. As she cooks, her mind starts to wander yet again, “I can’t believe all I could find out is that Nephrite’s family recently flew to Libya. I bet they went to collect his body.”

Her thoughts run wild with imagining public announcements of his death and a funeral. A chef runs over and shouts at her, “MAKOTO!” 

She snaps out of it, stepping away from the smoking pan.

“You’ve burned the meat,” the chef complains.

 “I’m so sorry,” she says and stumbles, grabbing the countertop for balance. The chef feels her forehead, “My goodness, you’re burning up.”

The manager walks in, complaining of all the smoke. The chef reports, “Makoto has a pretty high fever.”

The manager feels Makoto’s forehead and can see how dizzy she is. She wraps an arm around Makoto to provide some support, “Come with me.”

The manager helps Makoto into her jacket and backpack, then escorts her to the door.

“Really, it's fine, I’m okay,” Makoto says, “What about the group reservation later tonight?” 

“We can cover for you, I can also help out as well. You’re in no condition to be working right now. I haven't seen you this sick since you first started here. Please go and see a doctor and get plenty of rest.”

Makoto weakly mumbles, “Okay I’ll get some rest. Thank you for caring for me, I’ll work extra hard tomorrow.” Her manager just smiles and gestures for her to get going. 

Makoto starts to walk home, but as she stumbles along her usual route, honks from car horns and lights from the storefront signs overwhelm her. She notices how dizzy she feels and feebly calls for a taxi, to no avail. She leans against a pole for support, struggling to stay conscious. As her legs start to give out under the full weight of her illness, Takahiro pulls up in his car. Illegally parking on the side of the busy street without any regard to other cars, he rushes to her aid. He softly asks her, “Are you alright? Will you let me help you?” Before she can nod, Makoto faints, falling forward into his arms. He scoops her up and carefully places her in the passenger seat of the car. He takes one deep breath and rushes to the driver’s side, speeding to the nearest hospital. 

Handing her over to emergency, Takahiro waits for hours before he’s allowed in to see her. Rushing to her hospital room, he opens the door to find Makoto soundly sleeping, like a princess from a fairytale. He slowly approaches and softly shuts the door behind him. Sitting by her side, he wipes the sweat off her face and quietly admires her beauty until he falls asleep in his chair. 

---

Back in Libya, the war rages on while Nephrite’s life hangs in the balance. In a coma and hooked up to life support, he flatlines and doctors rush to perform CPR. Nephrite’s life flashes before his eyes, and suddenly he finds himself in his childhood home in Hirado, sitting in the empty restaurant, facing the kitchen. His mother appears in front of him. 

“Nephrite, do you want to come with me?” Natsumi asks. “Life’s been so difficult for you, my poor, sweet son. Would you like to come and rest?”

Nephrite closes his eyes and a memory pops up. A young Nephrite cries out to his grandmother around the family dining table during dinner, “My mom is trapped under the collapsed department store!” A young Neph cries, “Please Grandmother Beryl, save her!” 

She ignores him like a family pet begging for scraps, as does Zoisite and his parents. They continue to eat as he desperately cries out, “Grandmother, please!”
He opens his eyes to see his mother still standing there, “Mom, they didn’t hold a funeral for you or build a grave where I can visit you.” 

“Sounds like they were ashamed of me, as if they never considered me part of the family.”

“My dear mom, I hope you know how deeply I love you and how much I miss you.”

Tears stream down Nephrite’s face as he continues, “And that I wanted to stay by your side no matter what.”

Natsumi moves toward him and takes his hand in hers. His eyes close once again.

As young Nephrite cries in hopelessness, Beryl turns to Tourmaline and dryly comments, “Even if we find out she’s dead, don’t bother holding a funeral for her. We don’t want any of this to become public and tarnish our name.”

Tourmaline nods in agreement, “Yes, Mother.”

Nephrite’s eyes open and he looks at his mother’s hand, “...But I can’t leave just yet. I have something I need to do. Please wait a little longer for me. I’m sorry, Mom.”

The team of international doctors take turns performing CPR for nearly half an hour. Exhausted and upset, the doctors start recording the time of death, when suddenly a flicker appears on the heart monitor, and then another, and then a steady rhythm forms. 

“His heart started beating!” A nurse cries out. Cheers and laughs accompany joyous cries of, “He’s going to live!” 

***

Six months later - Christmas

 

Christmas has come to Japan and decorations are shining their brightest. Cities celebrate with fireworks and all sorts of other holiday cheer. Makoto, sitting in her usual spot at her favourite coffee shop, watches the resident Santa laugh and play with a group of children. All that wholesome holiday cheer just melts her heart as she sinks into her latte. And as if to seem serendipitous, it just so happens that Takahiro casually strolls by the window of the very same coffee shop. He spots her and waves to try and divert her attention, but she is completely soaked in the magic of Christmas. He pulls his phone from his pocket to send her a text message.  

Makoto reaches for her phone and is surprised to read, “Turn your head and look outside.”

With a look of suspicion, she slowly turns her head to the window and sees Takahiro smiling and waving. He quickly opens his tablet to show her a short presentation.

“Merry Christmas!” The first slide reads.

Makoto texts back, “Merry Christmas,” and smiles politely at him.

He moves to the next slide which reads, “Do you know today is the 100th day….”

He slowly drags his finger across the screen to the next slide, “Since you rejected the confession of my feelings?”

She reacts with a look of guilt and discomfort, as she looks around nervously and back at him.

He nods as if to understand her feelings and moves to the next slide, “I’ve decided to be vulnerable once more and confess them again.”

Showing off his charm, he slightly pouts and coyly smiles as he moves to the next slide, “Will you accept my love?”

She takes a moment to breathe and sort out her feelings. Finding the right words, she texts back, “I’m a person with many flaws.”

He replies, “So am I, but I believe a relationship can succeed when two people aid in each other’s shortcomings.”  

He moves to the last slide; a giant red heart. Placing the tablet over his chest, he zooms it in and out, mimicking his beating heart while giggling. 

Takahiro puts his tablet away in his winter coat and grabs his phone. Hands shaking from the cold, he tenses and shakes them to try and increase blood flow. 

Makoto notices him suffering from the cold and immediately leaves the coffee shop. Head down from texting, Takahiro doesn’t notice Makoto walking toward him. Before he finishes his message, Makoto grabs his cold hands and tells him, “Don’t worry, you can stop now.”

“But I was almost finished,” he teases. 

She reaches into her pocket to grab her gloves and starts to put them on Takahiro, “You may not believe me, but remember, I told you I’m a person with many flaws. I’m too tall to be cute, I snore when I sleep, I have a mountain of debt, and I’m really only good at cooking and baking.”

And just as she finishes those last few words, Takahiro pulls her into a tight embrace, never wanting to let go.

“It’s fine. I barely had any homemade cooking as a child since my parents were too busy, so your homemade cooking is more than enough for me.”

She tries to step back from the hug but he pulls her back in.

“People are starting to stare,” Makoto shyly complains. 

Takahiro holds her tighter, “Let them stare, it’s Christmas and I couldn’t be happier!”

After a short pause, he speaks up again, “Well, there does seem to be one man in particular who is staring at us,” and grins mischievously. 

She tries to turn around but he doesn’t let go, “Stay still, I bet he’s jealous of us. He must be really envious as he’s practically watching without blinking.”

“What kind of strange man would be staring at us?”

He chuckles, “Yeah, he must be a strange man indeed. Not very handsome, but he is holding a potted plant. The flowers are quite pretty.”

“Do you think someone stood him up?” And she tries to turn around again but his grasp is still firm.

“Don’t turn around yet. What if someone stood him up and now he will try to steal you away from me?” He says playfully.

She gives Takahiro a strange look and he says, “Oh no, he’s coming toward us,” and lets go of her to greet the other man.

He wraps his arms around none other than his best friend Nephrite, miraculously alive and holding a poinsettia.

 

And with one glance, Makoto’s whole world shook. 

“Nephrite… Nephrite? NEPHRITE! I can’t believe he’s actually alive!”  

Emotions swirling and rising, she looks at him in shock. As if everything is happening in slow motion, yet too blurry to fully see, she watches Nephrite, with his charming sensitive smile, genuinely happy at seeing his dearest friend in complete bliss.  

Takahiro joyously announces to Nephrite, “She finally accepted my love!”

Her emotions run wild with too many feelings hitting her all at once; joy from seeing Nephrite alive, love from seeing Nephrite once again, panic from accepting his best friend’s proposal, and a deep sense of dread from the reality of the entire situation. 

Nephite, finally noticing her, politely bows, but does not pick up on Makoto’s state of shock. 

He asks her, “Have we ever met before?”

Eyes already turning red from the deep pain of wanting to scream, cry, and hide, she chokes back tears and can only stare at him. 

Takahiro jokingly brags, “Way to throw a terrible pickup line at my girlfriend, you dork. She’s mine now,” and reaches for Makoto’s hand, interlocking his fingers with hers. 

Nephrite chuckles, then absentmindedly hands the poinsettia to Makoto, “Merry Christmas. Please take good care of Takahiro and I hope you two are happy for a long time.”

Takahiro steps in to introduce Nephrite, “I should probably introduce you two. This is my best friend, Nephrite. He recently came back from a trip to the world of the dead.” 

Makoto, having severe difficulty hiding her emotions, fights back tears with all her strength but quietly loses the battle. 

Fortunately for her, no one notices since Takahiro is too busy wrapping his arms around both Makoto and Nephrite, “Look it’s snowing! What luck to have a white Christmas this year!

“I’m glad I didn’t die, I would have missed the beauty of snow falling,” Nephrite casually comments. 

Makoto looks around, trying to deal with the swirling chaos of emotions she’s feeling, watching the two men involved with her heart throw snowballs at each other, displaying all the cheer, joy, and togetherness the holidays offer. 

***

Dear Boss,

 

Thank you for the wonderful opportunity you’ve provided for me in working at Primo Miracolo .

I’ll never forget the kindness and compassion you showed me through my times of crisis and I will always cherish the time we spent together as you encouraged my culinary growth and pushed the limits of what I thought possible. However, it is with heavy heart that I hereby declare by resignation as chef from Primo Miracolo . And as you’re reading this letter, I’ve already packed up my life and moved to Greece. 

“Why Greece?” You might ask. I could give you all sorts of excuses, but you deserve an honest answer. The truth is, I can’t stop myself from falling in love with a man with whom I have no future. So I have decided to go to a place where I’ll never see him again. Thank you for all the fond memories.

 

Sincerely,

Makoto Kino

***

Four years later - Summer

 

An engine revs up as it speeds through a yellow light. Zoisite, testing the limits of his Porsche, speeds his way to D-Point Hospital. Enraged, he throws open the door to his office and turns on the TV to the news, “Famous American rapper Chris Kolder is currently in life-threatening condition, when he was involved in an accident while performing in Tokyo…”

Nephrite is first on the scene when the ambulance arrives, commanding his team while they rush the patient to an operating room. 

 

While all this unfolds, Tourmaline leans back on the couch in his office, calmly watching the news report. Kimiko rushes through crowds of fans and reporters gathered around the hospital entrance straight to Tourmaline’s office. She bursts open the door and starts berating him, “What is wrong with you? Why would you allow Nephrite to perform the operation on that famous rapper?” Tourmaline turns off the TV and slowly turns to her. 

Anger rising, she yells, “People all over the world are watching this event unfold, it’s attracting lots of media attention. Do you know what that means? How on earth could you possibly give this tremendous opportunity to Nephrite instead of Zoisite?!” 

Taking a deep breath, she calms down and continues, “Is it that there’s little chance he will survive?”

Tourmaline responds, “No that’s not it. It was already decided that Nephrite will perform the surgery.”

A quick blast of air left her, expressing her utter disbelief at his inaction, “What did you say?”

Tourmaline grabs her arm, “Have a seat. It seems that the rapper’s talent agency researched Nephrite’s time in Libya. They like the idea of having a doctor who’s saved lives in a war-torn country do the operation on him.”

Her face scrunches as she tries to understand, “Goodness, you are so infuriating! You need to do something about this! Assign Nephrite to another surgery immediately so--”

Tourmaline interrupts, “But Nephrite understands how important this operation is and would never give it up so you need to give up your schemes instead. Goodness….”

 

Nephrite describes the injuries present on the patient as his junior staff members furiously scribble away, documenting every word as fast as they can. In the middle of his action plan, Nephrite’s phone rings. 

“Your phone is ringing,” a doctor chimes in.

“Then pick it up and tell them I’m busy.”

The doctor interrupts again, “But it’s Takahiro”

“Excuse me for a moment everyone,” says Nephrite as he picks up the phone. Without hearing the other ends voice, he dives into a rant, “You finally called me! Do you have any idea how many times I have called you in the past week? I’ve been so worried--”

He stops mid-sentence, face turning as pale as a ghost. Running as fast as he can through hospital corridors, moving like a mouse in a maze, he completely disregards the surgery he is assigned to. 

Nephrite finally makes it to admitting to see Takahiro lying lifeless with a ventilator, his mother uncontrollably crying over his unconscious body. Nephrite, completely shocked, starts talking to Takahiro, “What’s going on with you? I can’t believe you never said anything to me, your best friend who of all things is a doctor.” Another doctor arrives, “This patient needs to be taken to the OR immediately.”

Nephrite scrubs in beside the surgeon in charge of Takahiro’s case. 

He interrogates the surgeon, “Are you sure you can perform this surgery? Are you certain you can save my best friend? You recently were involved in a medical scandal, I heard it was a negligent mistake.”

The surgeon turns to him, “Why you piece of--”

Nephrite slams his knee against the water tap on the wall, “If you’re not 100% confident, then get the hell out of my way. If anything happens to my friend, I’ll kill you myself.” 

The surgeon’s eyes widen out of fear, slowly backing away.

 

Zoisite furiously takes off his doctor coat and throws it on his leather arm chair in his office. A resident doctor barges in, “Excuse me, Sir?”

As Zoisite puts on his blazer he replies, “Aren’t you part of Nephrite’s team? Who do you think you are to rush in here without knocking? Answer me!”

The resident bows, “I’m sorry for the intrusion. However I was in a hurry to reach you. Nephrite has abandoned us…”

 

As if performing in sync, the two doctors both address their teams before proceeding with surgery, “I’m Zoisite Kurokami from Neurosurgery and I’ll be in charge of this patient’s operation. Stay focused team.” 

“I’m Nephrite Kurokami from Neurosurgery and I will be the chief surgeon leading this operation for this patient. Stay sharp and let's all do our best.” He bends down to the patient’s ear, “Don’t worry Taka. I will save you no matter what.”

---

Sitting behind yet another polished desk in yet another luxury chair, a stressed, middle aged man sits and stares, worried about his present circumstances. Heavy, dark bags sit under his tired, sunken eyes, devoid of light, as if their brilliance has been lost to darkness. Scraggly grey hairs sit atop his head, showcasing years of stress. His facial hair matches, sporting a “salt and pepper” five o’clock shadow. He breathes a heavy sigh and picks up the photo of his son, Takahiro. Holding it closely to his chest, he whispers, praying for a miracle. With tears in his eyes, he places the photo back on his desk, knocking his desk name plate to the ground, which reads, “Dr. Mamoru Chiba, Director of D-Point Hospice.”

---

Camera’s flash non-stop as Zoisite and his medical team enter the medical press conference auditorium. His parents follow behind him, joining him up stage, beaming with pride. 

He addresses the hall, “My name is Zoisite Kurokami and I was in charge of Chris Kolder’s operation today here at D-Point Hospital. I’m pleased to announce the surgery went smoothly and he is expected to make a full recovery.” Cameras continue to flash as reporters furiously type notes for their news segments; segments for international headlines, making a name for himself and D-Point Hospital. 

 

As Zoisite has his fifteen minutes of glory, Nephrite sits on the floor of a quiet, darkly lit corridor, back against a wall, looking utterly defeated. He hangs his head in between his knees, tears uncontrollably rolling down his face. 

A familiar comforting voice softly whispers, “Nephrite.” 

He looks up to see dearest friend’s father, Mamoru, “You did all you could.”

He bends down to Nephrite’s eye level, “You haven’t had anything to eat yet, have you?”

Nephrite’s tears intensify as he starts to tremble. He swallows, taking a deep breath and finds his voice, “I thought I’d be able to save him.”

Mamoru shakes his head, “Takahiro already knew there was little chance of success, so that’s why he told me to keep it a secret from you.”

Nephrite’s tears explode from his face as he hopelessly whisper-cries, “I’m so sorry.” 

“Don’t be sorry. I prayed for a miracle, but they happen so rarely.”

His tears intensify further, “I’m so very sorry.”

Mamoru places his hand on top of Nephrite’s clenched fist, “There’s no need, even I had given up hope. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for never giving up on my son. I can take care of him from now until the end.” He stands up and slowly walks away while Nephrite continues to grieve, tears forming a puddle on the floor.

 

Refreshed from a long night’s sleep, Nephrite takes a drive out to the countryside. He breathes the fresh air and enjoys the sunshine that turns foliage into shining jewels. He arrives at his destination, D-Point Hospice. Dressed in a linen suit, he steps out of his Lexus and has a look around. Full of spirit, he grabs a box from his back seat and heads inside. He enters Takahiro’s room and starts decorating it with action figures out of the box he brought. Takahiro wakes up and groggily says, “I’m grateful for the figures but I’d like it more if you just quit your job.”

Nephrite chuckles and turns around, “If I do, D-Point is doomed. Who will replace such a highly skilled doctor such as myself?” Flashing Takahiro a cheesy grin.

Takahiro lets out a small laugh, “A highly skilled doctor, as if. You couldn’t cure me.”

Nephrite’s face turns gravely serious, “I might have if you came to me sooner. You’re the asshole who didn’t tell anything.”

“Why should I have told you? You know how I find ‘Dr. Kurokami’ so annoying.” Takahiro looks him in the eyes with a grin on his face and Nephrite glances away.

“Where’s your Mom?” Nephrite asks, trying to distract himself.

“She’s at work. She took too many days off for me so I’m worried they might fire her.”

“Then should I take some time off to be here instead?”

“Nah, I’d rather you quit than take days off.”

Nephrite shakes his head, “You must be experiencing issues from the surgery because you keep saying nonsense like that.”

Takahiro retorts, “You know, I think you’re right. Maybe you committed malpractice…You really need to quit, you fraud.”

“Mr. Chiba, your meal is here,” says a kitchen staff worker loudly as she brings in his meal.

Nephrite takes the food, “I’m so glad you interrupted us, I was just about to get sued by this jerk!”

Looking confused, she asks, “Pardon me?” Takahiro bursts into laughter and she quickly leaves.

“Thank you for the meal,” he yells as she shuffles down the hall. 

He takes a few bites and sits back, looking disappointed. 

“What’s wrong? Is it difficult to eat?”

“No… It just tastes like crap. Great skill must have been put into this meal to make it taste this horrible. You know what I’d really love to eat? Dumpling stew.”

“Should I bring you some?”

Takahiro sighs, “I want Makoto’s dumpling stew. You’ve never had it before, have you? It is by far the best dumpling stew I have ever tasted.”

In a defensive tone, Nephrite asks, “Why are you even mentioning her? Why would you ever even think about that bitch who abandoned you?”

“I wasn’t talking about her. I was talking about her dumpling stew.”

Frustrated, Nephrite blurts out, “Just tell me what you want to eat and I’ll go grab it.”

“I told you, I want Makoto’s dumpling stew.” He looks out the window, “My wish is to eat it at least one more time before I die.”

---

Greece - Summer

 

It’s a long drive along the sunny Greek coast to the small village where Makoto spends her days cooking; working to pay off her brother’s debt while trying to forget the man of her dreams. A truck rumbles up and parks at the gate of the walking village. Makoto, in full chef uniform, greets the farmer delivering their fresh produce. He struggles to lift the heavy box and hands it to Makoto, who carries it with such ease it seems as if she’s carrying an empty box. They thank each other and head off on their separate ways. She gracefully weaves through the groups of people walking down the cobblestone streets and she works up a slight sweat in the summer heat. As she walks into the restaurant, all the other chefs are busy washing, chopping, and spicing various dishes. Makoto puts the box down and helps spice and skewer a pig for the outdoor barbeque. She helps her coworker carry it over to the fire pit and just as she sets the skewer down, her phone rings. Taking it out of her pocket, she sees an unknown number and takes the call.

“Hello?... Yes, that’s me... Who broke what?... Okay, yes I understand. I am very sorry for the trouble.” 

She hangs up the phone and fights her desire to scream. In the noon-day summer sun, Makoto jumps on her bicycle and takes off from the village. As mad as she is, she can’t help but enjoy the bright summer sun and crystal blue ocean as she twists and turns down the coastal road. She finally arrives at her destination and hastily jumps off her bicycle, throwing it to the ground. As she storms up the steps of the police station, she mutters, “I’m going to kill that jerk.”

Makoto walks in to find her brother chatting up some local sex workers while they smirk and ignore him. 

“You’re both so beautiful, would you care to grab a drink?” he says in Japanese. One rolls her eyes and the other shakes her head, laughing.  

“Drink?” Shinichi says in Greek. A policeman hears all the ruckus and takes the ladies to be processed. 

 

She finds him and stops just before he notices her. Putting her hands on her hips, she breathes deeply to calm the rage bubbling up inside her. 

Shinchi spots her and tries to stand, but immediately falls back into his chair, completely forgetting he is handcuffed to it.

“Hey, Makoto,” Shinichi shouts and half-heartedly laughs about his situation, as if to make light of it. Makoto puts her hands on her hips, looking scornful, and breathes a heavy sigh to show her discontempt. 

After paying Shinichi’s fine, he happily skips out of the police station and takes a romantic selfie against the coast to post on social media, “Drinking wine on the coast of Greece, won’t you join me?” 

“Look at all these likes, Makoto!” Shinichi brags. However, she is in no mood to hear it, as her anger has bubbled over. 

He starts doing a little victory dance, “I can’t believe so many people liked my post!”

Makoto stops and gives him a look signifying how tired she is of his delinquent behaviour. 

“Oh come on Mako, how can you be so pissed when you're in sunny-- OUCH!” He trips over Makoto’s bicycle that she left on the side of the road before climbing on the ocean beach rocks.

“Makoto! Hey, Makoto!” Shinichi yells as he clumsily tries to climb over the jagged sharp rocks. 

“Makoto! Wait up, will you?!”

“DAMNIT!!!!” she yells at the top of her lungs and starts fiercely crying.

“You are such an irresponsible jerk!” she manages to yell through her heavy sobs.

 

The next morning, Makoto is at the local fishing market bright and early. Dressed in rubber boots, gloves, and apron, she hauls fish from boats and places them into bins for descaling. As she dumps another large crate onto the pile, her coworker calls out, “Makoto, how many other jobs do you have besides this one and working as a chef?”

“I don’t have a choice, I need to pay off the family debt.” 

“I heard your little brother broke a very expensive bottle of wine at Dimitri’s restaurant. He didn’t even take a sip, the bottle was still sealed!”

“Don’t remind me,” she complains. 

“Doesn’t that bottle cost over 8000 Euros?” Asks another coworker, inserting herself into the conversation.

“Oh stop talking about this or I’m going to get pissed off all over again!”

“Well, you wouldn’t believe this,” the second coworker announces, “But our local winery association is holding a cooking competition. And guess what the first place prize is?” 

She wiggles her eyebrows and smiles, “A replacement bottle for Dimitri, if you enter that is.” 

Makoto smiles as if her spirits are lifted, “I’m going to win that bottle!”

 

Noon finally arrives and her shift is over. Freeing herself from her fishy clothes, she changes into shorts and a breezy top, and starts cycling back home. On the way up a particularly grueling cobblestone passageway, a poster catches her eye. It’s the poster for the cooking competition, complete with details and contact information. She jumps off her bicycle, letting it crash to the ground, and runs to the poster. She reads the rules over a few times, “So the competition is to make three dishes, each pairing perfectly with the three wines listed here. Okay, easy enough.” She glances at the contact information and deadline, “The competition is in two days?! I better buy those bottles of wine and start cooking!” Carefully looking around, she rips the poster from the bulletin board and stuffs it in her bag.

Later that evening, Makoto starts to prepare for the competition. Sitting at her kitchen table, she pours a large glass of wine from the first of three bottles and starts flipping through cookbooks and food magazines, looking for inspiration. Finishing the first glass, she opens the second bottle of wine and pours herself another large glass. Still focused, and now more relaxed, she sinks into her books. Finishing that glass as well, she pours herself a glass from the third bottle of wine and takes a huge gulp. 

“Oh crap, I forgot to take notes on what each wine tastes like. Maybe I should start now,” she thinks to herself. However, that thought arrives too late, since the room is already spinning and her writing is completely illegible. She stands up and catches herself from falling flat on her face, gripping the table for support. “Okay, I’m really really drunk,” she loudly says to herself, thinking she’s whispering to herself in her head. “I had better lay down for a bit…”

The next day she’s at it again, this time with a full belly and a smaller wine glass. She’s furiously tasting different spice combinations, making many variations of sauces, and grilling vegetables. 

The pressure of the competition fuels her through her financial stress and exhaustion from working the whole day. But her attention is spread too thin and she smells something burning.

“Oh no! The eggplant!” Makoto yells as the smell of charred vegetables snaps her out of her daze. 

 

It’s the day of the cooking contest! Contestants set up their stations bright and early on a shallow stage in the local park. Throughout the morning, people start to trickle in and form a small audience. 

There’s a total of twenty contestants on stage, with the panel of five judges at a table off to the side. Four judges appear on stage, leaving one empty seat at the judging table. The overly zealous host starts introducing the cooking contest, explaining the rules and showcasing each judge. 

“Welcome to our classy cooking contest! Don’t forget to enter your name for a chance to be a special guest judge!”

As he counts down to start, a loud chime goes off and contestants spring into action. They fire up their grills, heat up their pots and pans, and start furiously chopping their ingredients. 

In the center stage stands Makoto, diligently cooking at her station, working harder than ever. The host walks around obnoxiously commenting about the contestants, “Oh looks like you’re playing with fire over here! And that guy over there cooking up a storm!”

And as if that isn’t enough, Shinichi adds his own special flair to the mix, holding up a poorly constructed cardboard sign and cheering Makoto on. 

Pressure’s on as the timer counts down to zero. The host announces that there’s only ten seconds left and encourages the audience to count down with him. As they reach zero, the chime sounds again. 

“Okay contestants, time’s up! Please put down your utensils and step away from your plates!” 

He turns to the audience, “Alright it’s time to see who wins a seat to be our special guest judge!”

He fiddles with the box and pulls out a name, “Would you please come up to the stage, Nephrite Kurokami?”