Trisha’s Hubby (An Arrival of a Rival Gaiden Chapter) Part 1


(Author notes

So a quick rundown, I needed to take a little break from the main story so that I don’t burn myself out. That and admittingly playing some games that I’ve been meaning to get to.

Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to write a side story for Trisha since she’s one of the central characters of ‘An Arrival of a Rival.’ Don’t worry, I’ll continue to write down the main story.

For context regarding some dialogue, refer to Chapter 13 of ‘An Arrival of a Rival.’
http://touchfluffytail.org/story/an-arrival-of-a-rival-ch13/
Otherwise, I hope you guys like it.)

“Love can happen spontaneously. I also trust that you have the mental restraint to hold back until your hubby’s of legal age. If you love and trust each other, then that’s enough.”

“Faulkner, thank you. I’ll give you more details the next time we hang out. You’re the only person I could talk to about this, and I’m glad I did. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Heh, sure. Glad I could help. Goodnight, Trisha.”

“Goodnight, stud…” How long ago was it, four years? Yeah, four years. That was how long ago it was when I met my Hubby. Sitting naked next to me on my bed, I was ready to take the first step to pop his cherry. I just got off the phone with Faulkner, my closest friend and the only person I can think of to talk to. Now that the time’s finally come for us to get intimate, my heart’s been racing nonstop. If I reminisce for a bit, it might help calm me down.

____________________

It was another day at work, reading through legal documents. When I joined Lady Tama here on Earth along with Denise to expand my horizons, I didn’t think the laws would be so aggravating. If I find them frustrating, what does that say for the other Monsters?! Humans think it’s so simple to teach them how to behave properly here on Earth! Try telling that to a Dragon or a Vampire?! They’re either too spoiled or strong-headed to listen! Worst of all, dealing with them is ironically easier than the more simple-minded monsters! There are still Orcs or Goblins that come here thinking they can just nab a man whenever they want! And what about those who use magic for daily tasks? Don’t get me started on Harpies that get around by flying. Filling out these papers is driving me up the wall. Anyone in my position would be scratching their head in frustration!

“RRAAAGH!!! Those fucking shitheads don’t know what we’re dealing with! ‘Oh! You gals are monsters, right? It should be a cinch to get them to understand.’ Bullshit it is!” In a fit of frustration, slamming my hands on the piles of paper on my desk was all I could do to curb the stress. As the other documents fell, I looked around before noticing the others in the conference room staring at me.

“Ahh…s-sorry about that…” Helping me pick up the mess I created, Fae Fae smiled sympathetically to help me calm down before we got it all cleaned up.

“Maybe you should call it a day, Trisha. We’ve been trying to finish these documents for the past four hours.” Coming here two years before me, Fae Fae was pretty familiar with the laws and restrictions on Earth. Compared to other Titania back in our world, Fae Fae was unusual as she acts maturely compared to others of her kind.

“Good idea. I need some time to sort all this crap through. Alright, everyone, let’s wrap it up for today!” Packing up after our meeting, Fae Fae dragged me along for a ‘walk’ to calm my nerves. Thinking about it, I was a lot like Faulkner back then…

“Filling in for Lady Tama’s shoes is tough. Then again, Lady Tama doesn’t have feet to fill shoes with, unless she uses magic to”

“Fae Fae, I envy you. Living here on Earth for over two years before me gave you plenty of time to adjust…”

“Excuse me? Do you think it was any easier for me when I came here for the first time? Of course not! I can’t use magic to shrink others like I normally do, and shrinking myself labels me as suspicious since others will interpret it like I’m trying to sneak up on people or something.”

“You don’t have blue fucking skin and horns sticking out of her head!”

“J-just calm down, alright? Look, why don’t we drop this topic for now? TMRC’s construction’s already approved. So we’re not in a huge rush to get things going. Putting that aside, how’s your current job as a local job recruiter?”

“It’s going well enough…” While waiting for TMRC’s construction, I’ve been working as a recruiter to help other monsters and the occasional human find jobs suited for them. Apparently, appearance-wise, I look just enough of a monster that the other monsters feel at ease around me. I also retain enough human features and intelligence that the average human feels comfortable around me. “And what about you? Working as a Kindergarten teacher’s got to be stressful.”

“Oh, that? Nah. You just have to think like them. Honestly, I have lots of fun playing with them!”

“Well yeah, you’re a Titania. Fairy folks like you always get along with children.” Giving me a stink-eyed side look, Fae Fae lightly smacks me on my left horn with her right hand.

“You know damn well that ‘Encyclopedia’ defines us is not set in stone. Like humans, everyone has different personalities, beliefs, traits, etcetera. Anyway, I have a place in mind where you can relax and unwind.”

“Hmm?” From her purse, she pulls out her smartphone. I got one for myself not long after I got here on Earth. It’s pretty convenient having the internet at the palm of your hand, among the other things it can do. When she found what she was looking for, she stopped and showed it to me on her phone.

“A new park just opened up to the general public. This new park is special since it’s built collaboratively by Humans and Monsters! Four food stops opened up there, and there’s a playground made to accommodate most Monsters. Maybe if you spend time observing the visitors there, you could learn more about how Monster adapted here?” It’s only been six months since I came here to Earth, so I guess it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do that. “I’ll send the directions to get there on your phone.”

“Thanks. Wait, you’re sending the directions to me? You’re not coming with me?” A bead of sweat fell from Fae Fae’s face before she clapped her hands together, smiling apologetically.

“Sorry, I can’t. I have a date waiting for me.”

“Ah, that’s right. You mentioned you’ve found a man. Congrats.” That same man who works at a daycare for kids would later become her husband. They make a lovely couple and have two kids now.

“Thank you. Anyway, try to relax, alright Trisha? Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that special someone there.” I know she’s doing her best to cheer me up, but did she have to bring out that cliche?

Still, cliche or not, she guessed right.

“Maybe, when Orcs fly. See you later, Fae Fae.” With a wave, we went our separate ways. Happily skipping and jumping around like that, for someone in her thirties like I was at the time, she sure makes me look like a hag in comparison. “Now then, where is this park?” Using a navigation app on my phone and putting the address Fae Fae texted me on it, I got a name and description of the park. “Correlia Park…” From the short description I read of the place, it’s rather special since the ones who started the project to build the park in the first place were bitter rivals. They had contradicting moral standards before they found something to agree on. Their union was a cause for celebration in their community because of how unlikely they’d ever get together.

“Huh? What an interesting origin story for a park. Wonder how long their marriage lasted…” Putting my phone back into my hand purse, a two-mile walk was all it took to get there. It was one of those open-ended parks and didn’t seem too different from any other parks I know of, but soon enough, I saw some things here that you wouldn’t find at other parks. Metal hoops were scattered randomly around the park for harpies to practice flying through with some perches nearby. There’s also a small water spout area for slimes or aquatic monsters, and a playground that even centaurs couple play in.

Seeing how the park accommodates Monsters, it was naturally busy. Then again, it could be the fact that this park just opened.

“I might as well find somewhere to sit and chill.” Walking around some more, I found one of those fancy fountains you’d usually see in these kinds of parks. The statue adorned on it shows a Vampire and a man shaking hands. That must be the duo who built this park. Close to the fountain was a stone slab with words etched on it.

“An unlikely union between the Mistress of the night, Noire, and Joseph of the Vatican church. Through their contradictions, the two met and bonded.” Vampires are already uptight as you could get, so how the fuck did she and a man of the church get together?! Dammit…why does knowing that piss me off so much?!

Wait, I know why. It’s because I was bitter. I had a hard time with love since all the men I was interested in were either too scared or weren’t interested in me. And those who were only interested in getting into my pants. By the time I passed my supposed prime, I had given up on love and grew resentful of seeing couples out of jealousy and spite.

“Just move on, Trisha…” Trying to calm myself down, I moved on to try and find a bench to sit on. Most of them were already taken, by couples no less. “Shit…don’t tell me I’m gonna be sitting under a tree or something?” Walking past some more benches, I saw a kid drawing in the corner of my left eye. “Hmm?” Curios, I got closer to take a better look.

“No…I got the depth all wrong…” He scanned the area using his pen as a guide before drawing bit by bit. He’d add small things like bushes around trees or birds flying in the sky. He focused on the central area of the park, the fountain. He drew the statue in the middle of the fountain with great detail. The background, however, was all over the place. It’s the exact opposite of how Lady Tama drew.

That’s when I met my Hubby for the first time. Seeing him draw reminded me of Lady Tama. I worked as her bodyguard before coming here. In fact, there was a specific memory I recalled at the time when I saw him draw.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Lady Tama, is this you’re idea of relaxing? I find it boring myself…” Back when I was barely twenty in my world, I jumped from place to place, offering my services as either a mercenary or bodyguard for hire. Thankfully, my jobs never amounted to anything more than fighting bandits or scaring off meddling pedlers. Eventually, Lady Tama approached me and asked for a long-term contract as her bodyguard. Since then, I’ve been by her side nearly every day.

“I find it quite relaxing. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the Zipangu capital. It’s perfect…”

“Your idea of perfect is a mountain fifteen thousand feet above sea level? All I see here are mountains, grass, trees, and clouds.” Most wouldn’t be able to pick up on it, but Lady Tama hated her role as a ‘Goddess’. The responsibilities she had to uphold bogged her down emotionally, draining her desire for a man since she was so busy with her tasks. She refuses any man handed to her, stating that only a man of her choice can be her husband.

To destress, Lady Tama paints in her spare time. Before she found and hired me, she couldn’t go anywhere far since her followers insisted she had to be close by for her protection. Now that I’m her bodyguard, she can go wherever she pleases as long as I’m with her.

“Yes. There’s just the two of us here, enjoying nature in its splendor.” I didn’t see the appeal to painting random points of interest back then. But the more paintings I saw her finish, the more I grew to appreciate it and understand her perspective. “Tell me. Trisha, what do you do for a hobby?”

“What I do? Well…I guess I go out drinking.” While usually focused on her work, Lady Tama’s tail would often swing around at random whenever there was something that she was stuck with.

“Drinking? That doesn’t sound like a fun hobby. I know! Trisha, why don’t you try your hand at painting?”

“Me, paint? I don’t remember the last time I dabbled with a paintbrush” As dumbfounded as I looked, nothing could deter Lady Tama once she had her mind made up. Setting up an empty canvas, she could barely contain her excitement before laying her tail flat on the ground.

“Come on! Sit here on my tail next to me!”

“Fine…” I got nothing else better to do, so I might as well humor her request.

For the next hour, we focused on our paintings. Lady Tama thought I wouldn’t notice, but I knew she was glancing at my painting. After another hour, Lady Tama groaned before falling flat on the ground.

“Ugh! I kind of regret letting you paint with me…”
“Why’s that?” Sitting back up, Lady Tama points at my painting with a look of frustration.

“How can you paint this well if you haven’t painted in forever?!” It’s not that I’m a good painter. It’s just…

“Lady Tama, I’ll be frank with you. There are many things you’re good at. Painting is not one of them.”

“So what? You don’t have to be good at your hobby to enjoy it!”

“Then why are you upset at me for being a better painter than you?” One of the benefits of being Lady Tama’s bodyguard was seeing her blush red just like this. Very few people get to see this quirky, cutesy side of hers.

“A-anyways…Trisha…I know this sounds odd, coming from me, but have you considered trying to find a man to marry?”

“That is odd.” I guess she’s pretty serious about that question considering she crossed her arms and pouted when I teased her. “I’m not really looking for one right now. I scare most of them away. The ones that do stick around are usually drunk morons.”

“I see, so we’re like two peas in a pod?”

“Maybe? Your WAY prettier than I am.” At that moment, Lady Tama clutched my cheeks with her clawed hands.

“Nonsense! You look rough now, but if you put a little effort into getting a better set of clothes and fixing your hair, maybe growing it out a bit. I know you’d be a real beaut!”

“Please, don’t joke about that…” It was pretty embarrassing having her stare this closely, but it did make me happy hearing her say that.

“I’m not joking. Someday, we’ll find out destined lovers! Who knows, maybe they’re out there beyond our reach?”

“Eh? But if they’re out of our reach, then what’s the point?” Then, as if the atmosphere around us slowed to a crawl, Lady Tama looked up at the sky.

“Yes, they’re out of reach. For now, that is…”

“For now?”

“Yes. I’m just following what my heart tells me. I’m sure there’s someone out there for you and me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now that I think about it, Lady Tama was known for her precognitive abilities, even if she claimed she didn’t have them. Did she foresee us coming to Earth back then?

“Miss? Are you okay?” I was out of it daydreaming at the time, so I hadn’t noticed that I was staring at my hubby for so long up until he called out to me.

“Who, me?! O-Oh! Your drawing!”

“My drawing?” With one eyebrow raised in confusion, he turned to look at his tablet.

“The bush you’re drawing, you’re drawing it as if it’s the centerpiece of the image. Isn’t the fountain meant to be the foreground image there?”

“Ah, that? Well, I figured I should draw the bush with more detail rather than just make it a random splotch of green paint.” I admired his attention to detail, but that wasn’t the only thing I noticed wrong with his painting.

“Kid, you need a larger canvas than that if you want to draw with that much detail. What resolution are you drawing at? Nineteen-twenty by Ten-eighty?”

“Y-yeah…”

“Thought so. You’ll need at least two sizes up to draw a bush with that much detail. Plus, you’ve made the bush twice as big as it actually is. Even if I’m not sitting exactly where you are, I can tell that you’ve focused too much on it.” He’d look back and forth between his drawing and the scenery. When he realized I was right, his freckled cheeks turned bright red in embarrassment.

“You’re right, Miss. Are you a professional painter?”

“Not quite. There’s someone I look up to who paints as a hobby. Your painting reminds me of hers since she often made similar mistakes you’re making. She’d ask me to join her occasionally, so I could tell you were making mistakes.”

“There’s more?” With a smile, he patted a space on the bench. “Sit here, Miss.”

“Uh…sure, kid.” I figured I’d only stick around to help him out a bit. Boy, was I wrong though

“Are you a teacher of sorts, Miss?” He must be referring to my office uniform and blouse uniform.

“No, I work as a recruiter, kid. And can you drop the ‘Miss’ already? The name’s Trisha.”

“Trisha, huh? My name’s Markus.” An awkward handshake later, Markus continued with his painting. When drawing the finer details, Markus had serious talent. But I had to reel him in whenever he got too focused on one area.

“If painting’s your hobby, why aren’t you using an actual canvas and paint?”

“Hobby? Oh, ahaha. Painting isn’t a hobby of mine. I’m practicing drawing scenery in real life so that I can draw them for a video game project I’m working on.”

I didn’t know much about video games at the time. I was swamped with paperwork and was too busy to play them anyway.

“That’s one of those interactive videos, right? Using a controller of sorts to move things around the video?” Again, Markus shot a confused look before putting his tablet away.

“Sort of. Miss Trisha, have you never played video games before?”

“Do I look like the type to play video games? I’ve only been here on Earth for roughly six months. I’ve just finished reading the ins and outs regarding laws here.” Markus had the habit of avoiding eye contact since he’s always been a passive boy.

“I see. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“You didn’t say anything wrong, so don’t apologize.” I’ve mentioned it before, but I was like Faulkner back then. So I was a bit annoyed every time Markus would avoid my gaze. At least he nodded. “Anyway…a video game, huh? What kind of game is it?”

“I want to work on a fantasy adventure game! Set in a world where the main protagonist is a traveler from a foreign world to another!” This sounds familiar, somehow. “I’ve gotten some of the characters made already, so I’m practicing drawing backgrounds to really flesh them out.” Passionate was an understatement. He went on a five-minute speech about the premise of the story.

“I can tell that you’re pretty passionate about this, kid. But you’re still too young to turn that idea into a reality, right?”

“I’m not that young! I’m fourteen! Besides, isn’t it better to get a head start than start late and fall behind?”

“Heh. Yeah, that’s true. Also, you’re fourteen? You just started Highschool I take it?” Looking at his backpack, I could see various papers and books inside it.

“Yup. I’m currently taking computer programming classes along with art. I’m not much of a sports person, even if I’m a guy…” Curly brown hair, thin but modest stature, and all alone in a park? Markus was one of those nerdy types that struggled with socializing. The only reason he’s talking to me well enough is because we have something in common we can talk about. Oh well. Putting that aside, Markus has some pretty vivid green eyes behind his glasses. The freckles around his cheeks add to his cuteness factor. He still has them now, but he was shorter than me before, so he was just that much cuter.

“You’re not doing so bad. Don’t let societal norms bog you down. Hell, look at me. Am I the scary monster the monster girl encyclopedia describes me as?”

“No, you’re not scary at all. You’re really pretty, in my opinion.” Saying that while you’re scratching your cheeks and blushing. I don’t know if Markus would do these things on purpose or never notice them, but it made him cuter to me.

“Thanks, kid. That’s sweet of you to say…” Without thinking about it, my right hand moved on its own before ruffling his curly hair.

“Hey, you. Stop right there!” At the back of my mind, I knew what hanging around Markus would look like from an outsider’s perspective, but I didn’t think it’d happen so quickly.

“Young man, are you alright? Is this Blue Oni harassing you?” Two police officers, one a centaur, and one human girl showed up. The Centaur stared daggers at me while the other officer checked on Markus to see if he was alright.

“I’m okay. But…” Markus squinted his eyes while looking at me. Almost as if he’s trying to think of something to say. “My auntie’s just scolding me for being so negative.”

“Auntie?!”

AUNTIE?! The hell?! I’d react the same way as the police officers if what Markus was trying to do here wasn’t so obvious. I had doubts about whether or not this little bluff of his would actually work. If it didn’t, I would’ve gotten arrested.

“It’s alright, Markus, they’re are just doing their jobs. Officers, he’s my brother-in-law’s son. In other words, my sister’s husband. I’m babysitting while she’s on a date with her husband.” The officers look back and forth between me and Markus. We tried to look inconspicuous before they turned to each other. I was reciting an internal monologue that would’ve made a sailor blush, wondering if the excuse I pulled out of my ass was believable enough. Thankfully, after a few seconds of silence, the officers nodded at each other and smiled back at us.

“Alright, sorry for the bother then. We’ve been getting reports of monster girls harassing unattended males, so we just had to be sure.” Believe it or not, our gamble paid off.

“Indeed. Heathens like them make us law-abiding Monsters look bad, so we have to be sure no one is being taken by force or tricked by them!” Whether back on our world or Earth’s, Centaurs have hardly changed. Prideful and strict to a tee.

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” With a bow from both of them, the human officer mounts her partner before they leave to patrol the area. A few seconds of awkward silence passed we sighed from the tension.

“Phew…that was close, eh Miss Trisha? Sorry if I had you play the role of my aunt.”

“Hey, it saved my ass from getting detained, so it’s no big deal. I wasn’t doing anything wrong in the first place, but those two wouldn’t have believed me. And while I’m at that subject, why do you trust me so easily, kid?” I thought Markus would cross his arms in thought and think it over, but it took less than two seconds for him to answer while smiling.

“Because I can tell that you’re a good person. You were genuinely interested in what I was drawing and even pointed out some mistakes I made. I don’t see why I should be afraid or turn you away.”

“What if I had used magic? I could be manipulating you through hypnotism.” Markus held his left hand up before slipping his right hand under his shirt. There, he pulled out a silver necklace. It had a light dull blue color crystal attached at its center by a metal loop.

“I wear this special necklace that glows if it detects the use of magic. It also guards me from low-level mind spells.”

“Huh, that’s smart…” A little off-topic here, but seeing that necklace gave me the idea of using magic sigils on the students of TMRC to limit their magical potency. Just like teachers who confiscate a kid’s phone to keep them from being distracted, the sigils were there to limit the magical output monsters had while also acting as a physical binder for those with super strength. The sigils prevent spats between monsters and protect any potential male human staff in TMRC.

“Do you know any spells, Miss Trisha?”

“None that would let me manipulate someone’s mind. The only magic I know is basic elemental and self-enhancement spells for fighting.” Suddenly, Markus scootched closer with his arms folded up. His eyes glimmered with excitement.

“Huh, you can use magic? I thought that Blue Oni’s-”

*Grumble*

“Ah…” Markus’s face froze before his freckled cheeks turned a bright red color.

*Grumble Grumble*

“Ehe…ehehe…you hungry?” Without saying anything, he nodded in response. “Alright, I could go for a bite to eat myself anyway! I’ll give you an answer to your question once we find somewhere to eat.”

“Sure. Do you know where you want to eat?” While Markus was busy putting his stuff in his backpack, I looked around real quick and saw two food trucks and a trailer. Since the park had just recently opened, there were only four places inside the park where you could eat. One of the food trucks served Chinese, while the other served Mexican cuisine. I wasn’t in the mood for either of those.

“Hmm…I can’t think of anything I’d want to eat…” As usual, most guys are indecisive when you ask them where to eat when they’re eating with a woman. Or was it the other way around?

“Then let’s go to that food trailer over there.” I pointed at a green trailer with a sign that displayed a chibi Minotaur eating a burger with a smile on her face. Appropriately, it’s called ‘Pounded Burgers.’

“Burgers? Sure! I’ve been meaning to go there ever since I saw it.”

“Then let’s go. It’ll be my treat.” With a nod shortly after he finished packing up, we made our way there before waiting in line. It took the smell of fresh burger patties sizzling to rouse my hunger, my stomach grumbling in anticipation while Markus laughed, commenting that he was happy he wasn’t the only one whose stomach growled.

When we got to order, a skinny young man greeted us. His Minotaur wife waved to us while flipping the burger patties.

“Welcome to ‘Pounded Burgers’ where every meat’s pounded to perfection. The name’s Vinny. The lovely cook over there is my wife, Lenore. What can I get for you two?” The menu was pretty simple. There are six burgers, three sides, and locally sourced bottled sodas or canned ones.

“I’ll have your standard double-pounded burger with curly fries and blueberry soda.”

“And how would you like your burger cooked?”

“Medium rare.” Writing down my order, he asked for Markus’s order next.

“He-hellwan and blue-cheese pounded burger. I want fried pickle slices for my side and blueberry soda. Medium well.” The man’s eyes widened before he whistled.

“Hear that, honey?! One Double pounded burger and a Hellwan and blue-cheese burger!”

“Alright! Coming right up!” After paying the man, he gave us our drinks and told us our sides should be out soon.

“Um…going back to what I was saying before…how come the magic you know how to use is all for fighting? I thought Blue Oni preferred to act diplomatically rather than fight like their Red counterparts?”

“We normally do, but I worked as a mercenary before. Whether I worked as a hired muscle or bodyguard, I settled most disputes by intimidation. But there were a few cases when I did have to fight.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Well…” I might as well open my drink and take a sip while trying to remember one of my fights. “There was a time when I was escorting peddlers. They wanted to trade goods with neighboring villages to bolster their stock of exclusive items. Some neighboring towns didn’t like that and sent a merc group to scare them off. Their scare tactics didn’t work when I was around, so things led to a scuffle.” The story I shared with Markus wasn’t anything new. Hell, I even had a gig once where I was guarding a post so my client could have sex with his wife uninterrupted. Still, Markus was tense the entire time he listened to my story.

“I’ve gotten a couple of bruises and scratches, but I managed to fend them off.” Markus was getting ready to say something but stopped when our sides came.

“Here’s your sides, the burger will be out in a moment.”

“Thank you.” Taking my first bite of the curly fries, it wasn’t anything stupendous, but it wasn’t terrible either. If I had to guess, they were store-bought fries, but the seasoning used to give them flavor was original. Markus seemed happy with his fried pickle slices. It came with a light orange dipping sauce, probably some variety of a thousand island dressing.

“Anyway…you…didn’t kill any of them, did you?”

“No. I’ve beaten someone close to death, but in that case, the guy had it coming. He got too ‘handsy’ with me.” It was so faint that I nearly missed it, but I’m sure that just now, I heard Markus sigh.

“Sorry for the wait! One Double Pounded burger for you.” Served on a pulp food container, the top half of the burger with the lettuce and condiments sat on the top lip while the bottom half of the burger with the meat, cheese, grilled onions, and pickles were on the other side of the container. Sizzling on the outside, the tender meat on the inside was still cooking with red meat juices oozing out from the burger meat. Admittingly, I couldn’t help but lick my lips when the delicious smell emanating from the burger reached my nose.

“And here’s your Hellwan Blue-cheese burger, young man.” Topped with blue cheese, grilled mushrooms, green onions, and roasted cloves of garlic, you’d think that the primary scent the burger would give off would be heavenly, but the bright, orangish red sauce that covered the burgers smelled so strongly of spice that it overpowered everything else. The smell alone would give any sane man second thoughts about taking a bite. The sauce is even bubbling from the residual heat of the burger patty.

“Here ya go, kid, you’re gonna need this.” The Minotaur who cooked our burgers handed Markus a small carton of milk.

“Huh? I didn’t ask for this.”

“It’s on the house. I’d feel bad serving something as hot as our Hellwan burger without giving you some sort of relief.”

My god, if that wasn’t a sign of a bad omen, I don’t know what would.

“It’s that spicy, huh? I can’t wait to dig in then.” At first, I thought Markus would deeply regret his decision, but he was happy. Markus’s face didn’t flinch one bit before he assembled his burger. Taking his first bite, the Minotaur and her husband winced, knowing what was to come. Hell, I’m probably wincing too.

“Hmm…wow! It really is spicy. And it’s not one of those cheap spicy flavors either! It’s really good!” Without hesitation, Markus took bite after bite of his burger. He never once reached for the milk carton.

“Wh-what the hell?!” It’s rare to see Minotaurs reeling in surprise, let alone slackjawed. “I-I can’t believe it! All the other customers that ate our Hellwan burger would beg for milk after their first bite, yet this kid can eat half of the damn thing without flinching?!” The burger must’ve tasted heavenly to Markus because it took him up until now to notice the attention he garnered.

“Ah…is something wrong?”

“No, not at all, kid. It’s just…you have one hell of a spice tolerance and an iron gut to match!” I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but watching him eat his burger made me curious to know what it’d taste like.

“Markus, you don’t mind if I take a bite of your burger, do you?” His mouth was open halfway before his eyes stared right at me. He looked at his burger for a second before closing his mouth. His cheeks turned a soft, pinkish-red color before bringing the burger close to my face.

“I…uh…sure…” Ah, to reminisce on how often he’d avoid eye contact due to his shyness…

Too damn cute…

“Thank you. Make sure you hold the burger nice and steady for me.”

“What do you mean by-” Leaning forward, I took a big bite of his burger. “Wah!” He nearly dropped the burger from being taken by surprise before I felt something on my chin. Markus’s other hand instinctively reached out to keep my chin in place. “Ah…No, I didn’t mean to…” It’s not just his cheeks anymore that changed color. His whole face was beet red as he stammered over and over as he tried to explain himself.

“Relax, kid! I’m not mad. That was very kind of you. My office uniform would’ve gotten dirty if you hadn’t put your hand in the way. Thank you fo-” So, remember how the Minotaur made a big deal about how spicy the burger was? I let my guard down because Markus didn’t seem bothered by the spice, so I thought the Minotaur was exaggerating.

Turns out, Markus just had a ludicrous amount of spice tolerance.

“AAAAHHH!!! HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT!!!” The inside of my mouth felt like a screaming inferno of pain and suffering! “MILK! GIVE ME THE DAMN MILK!” Springing into action, Markus wasted no time reaching for sweet relief before handing it over. Opening it quickly, Milk had never tasted so good in my entire life.

“Wait, Miss, if you want to get rid of the spice as quickly as possible, you shouldn’t swa-” Gulping the milky elixir down, I guzzled the whole carton in one go. For the next five seconds, I felt nothing but sweet relief.

But after those five seconds…

“WAAAHHH!!” Pain. Uncensored, unadulterated pain.

“Ha…th-thank you…” It took another carton of milk and NOT swallowing to curb the hellfire that razed my tongue.

“I’m sorry, Miss Trisha! I didn’t think you were that sensitive to spicy food.” Markus had calmed down, but he was shaking slightly from guilt.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m the one who asked for a bite, didn’t I? I only have myself to blame. But more importantly…I should be impressed. How the hell did you manage to eat half of that burger without dying from the heat?”

“I don’t know. It’s certainly spicy, but I didn’t think it was THAT bad.” Again, ludicrous spice tolerance.

“I hate to break it to you, kid, but I think there’s something wrong with your tongue. I can barely finish that whole burger without drinking milk myself! And I love spicy food. It’s why we have this burger on the menu, for spice lovers like you and me.” With a wide grin, the Minotaur cook held her right hand up. “Give me a high five, kid! Anyone who can handle the Hellwan burger has my respect.”

“Really? Heh, thank you.” After their high-five, more customers came, forcing the couple to focus back on their work.

“We should probably finish our meal before it gets cold.”

“Right.” Spending the rest of the time finishing our meal. The lingering heat from eating that Hellwan burger made eating mine hard, but I managed to finish it before paying.

“Well, those were some tasty burgers! The curly fries weren’t anything to write home about.” Rather than going to our bench, we decided to stroll around the park.

“Go for the fried pickles next time. If you like pickles, anyway.”

“Next time? So you want to make this a habit?” As soon as he realized it, Markus’s face turned red. Shaking his head and waving his hand in denial, he desperately tried to take back what he had said.

“AH! Crap! No, What I mean is, like you know, when you’re alone! I’m sure you have friends you can-” It’s funny. I only met Markus because I was him making mistakes in his drawing. If I hadn’t glanced at his tablet earlier, I probably would’ve wandered around and grabbed a bite to eat before leaving.

I didn’t know him beyond his drawing hobby and the future career he’s aiming for, but I felt compelled to know so much more. If I had ignored him, I might’ve been with someone else.

And I know I’ve said this before, but Markus is just so damn cute.

*Smooch*

“E-eh?!” Lifting his bangs out of the way, I decided to kiss Markus on the forehead.

“Let’s come here again next time, friend.” Ruffling his hair a bit for good measure, Markus jumped in surprise before backing away!

“Wh-what was that for?!”

“Ahaha! Sorry, I couldn’t help it. You’re just too damn cute!”

“Cute?!”

“I’m dead serious. And, if you want there to be a next time, it’d be better if we had a way to contact each other, right?” Pulling out my phone to make my point, Markus stared at it. “Or…you don’t want to hang out with someone old and scary like me?”

“I…no, you’re right.” Taking me by surprise, Markus slapped his cheeks as if to pump himself up before pulling out his phone. “I want to do this again. Partly because I could use your help again the next time I practice painting. I’ll even bring a real painting kit.”

“Nice! I know the tablet’s hella convenient, but nothing beats the real thing!”

“Also…” While Markus was typing away on his phone, his voice started to sound softer and quieter. “You’re not old and scary. You’re beautiful, Miss Trisha…”

“Ah…ahaha…thanks, Markus.”

____________________

After exchanging contacts, we’d chat daily. Nearly every weekend, we’d see each other at Correlia Park, where we’d paint together.

That’s not all we did in the Park, of course, like when I helped him with his homework, or when he’d give me pointers on what people around his age group think and act around monsters.

Because of how it looked to others around us, the facade we carried on as his aunt and nephew carried on smoothly. So we got more confident and went to places like a Mall, movie theaters, and recreational trails to find more secluded scenery to paint.

If he didn’t have plans with his friends or family during his holiday breaks, he’d spend them with me.

We’ve had to cancel our meetings on occasion, either because I had to catch up on paperwork to get TMRC/work, or if Markus was busy with his parents.

Not to mention Markus never told his parents OR his friends about us. Naturally, I never told anyone about Markus.

Anyway, every year, he’d show me his yearbook. He wouldn’t change much over the years aside from his height. By the time he was in his senior year, he was taller than me. The cute freckles on his cheeks hardly changed, and his hair remained curly and unkempt.

As for mine, when Markus was starting his junior year at school, TMRC’s construction was finally done. Lady Tama happened to stop by for the opening ceremony. We had a chance to catch up at the same time. Fae Fae chose to teach societal norms class at the time since she lived the longest here on Earth out of all the monster staff members at school. Though, because Fae Fae was too passive, she couldn’t get her lessons to stick.

When I heard about Fae Fae struggling in her class, I stuck to working as a recruiter to see if I could find anyone who’d qualify to take her place. Lo and behold, that’s when I met Faulkner for the first time. I had an opening for an English teacher in TMRC, so I hired him on the promise of a high pay grade. Soon after, I quit my job as a recruiter and worked in TMRC alongside him.

It wasn’t what he had in mind, and his first year as a societal norms teacher didn’t go too smoothly either. Rather than getting discouraged, however, he felt guilty and worked on improving his teaching methods for the year after.

The results speak for themselves.

When Markus’s senior year came around, he and I found less time to hang out since he was so busy with schoolwork. Naturally, I got lonely. Sometimes, he’d forget to text me back, though that was because he’d be too tired from school and studies and would go straight to bed after.

Then, I remembered that Markus’s Birthday was in June. So once he graduates, it wouldn’t be long before he’s an adult. Markus never mentioned any crushes or had an interest in anyone at school, so a part of me felt that if he couldn’t find someone to be with by the time he’d graduate, maybe he wouldn’t mind having me as his girlfriend.

Ever since I met him, I couldn’t deny that I had a romantic interest in him, but I swear that didn’t surface until a year after I had known him. I even started calling him my hubby to Faulkner, the only person who knew about him from my inner circle of friends.

Markus was still a kid, so I couldn’t act on it or even tell him. I contemplated telling him how I felt, but I never did. I was confident that he might felt the same way.

On his graduation day, I thought he’d be with his friends at their graduation party. Instead, he sent me a text, telling me to meet him at the park. There, we dined on celebratory burgers at ‘Pounded Burgers’.

“I’m surprised you skipped your graduation party to hang out with me.”

“Don’t say that. I have you to thank for my graduation, Trisha.”

“Please. I only helped you with your studies.” Being regulars for years, Vinny and Lenore happily welcomed us anytime we showed up. Over the years, Vinny bulked up some while Lenore plumped up nicely, likely due to their two-year-old daughter.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, get a room, you two! When are you guys gonna cross the line and fuck?!” Nearly spitting in the middle of drinking his soda, Markus coughed a few times before regaining his composure.

“Wh-what are you talking about?! Trisha’s my-”

“Girlfriend…” Interrupting Markus in the middle of his sentence with a straight look on her face, Lenore turned to face me before looking disappointed. “We’re not stupid. You’re both horrible liars. Anyone with common sense could see through your guy’s ruse.”

“You didn’t need to be so direct, Lenore.”

“Ah! Vinny, I love you, but I can’t just stand here grilling away, pretending their love for each other isn’t there! It’s frustrating!” Contrary to her appearance, Lenore was the type of woman who loved watching romance and soap opera shows.

“You know why they can’t tie the knot yet, dear. I mean…” After handing Markus his side of fried pickle slices. “Markus, you’re still seventeen, right?”

“Yes. It’ll be another month before my birthday. When that happens…” It was pretty obvious halfway through knowing each other, but it’s safe to say that we felt the same for each other. Markus couldn’t even finish his sentence without turning red. Though, I’m sure I’m not much better.

“I see, and what will you do once you turn eighteen, son?” Going from red to pale white, Markus froze in place just before he could eat. And when I heard the word ‘son’ spoken behind us, it didn’t take long before my complexion matched Markus’s as we both turned to see who was behind us.

“So this is who you come to see whenever you go to the park. I always thought you went alone, but I should’ve suspected something when you’d come home with your homework done.” Just as I feared at the time, the two voices behind us belonged to Markus’s parents.

His father, Doyle, shared his father’s green eyes and freckled cheeks. He had dark, straight hair and was a tad bulkier.

His mother, Emely, had brown, curly hair like he did. She also wore glasses and stood four inches shorter than her husband.

“M-Mom, Dad?! What’re you doing here?”

“We should be asking you that, son. We got a call from your school asking if you got home safely after you left your graduation party.” Markus didn’t think his plan through very well.

“Since you mention coming to Correlia Park often after school, we had a feeling that this is where you’d be. I’m glad you’re safe, but…” In all the time I’ve worked as a bodyguard/mercenary, I’ve always prided myself in keeping calm, even in the face of certain death.

But this…

The judgemental, invasive glare Emely and Doyle gave made me feel incredibly tense. Makes my brushes with death seem trivial.

“I didn’t realize you’d hide something like this from us.” Sharpening her gaze with a light squint, I felt a shock in my spine when we made eye contact. Hiding beneath the lenses of her glasses lay a Mother, ready to fight tooth and nail for her son.

“I…” I figured the best thing to do was to introduce myself to them. So I stood straight up and bowed at them. “My name is Trisha Sekigawa. A Blue Oni and…” I wanted to say friend, but since they eavesdropped on us already, saying that now would make things worse. “And I love your son Markus…” Holding his right hand with my left to make my point, Doyle and Emely reacted differently.

Doyle didn’t seem impressed at first, though if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he almost looked impressed with how forward I was.

Emely was more occupied with how Markus looked when I grabbed his hand. I felt Markus’s grip on my hand tighten before staring right back at Emely and nodding. Not such a convincing display with how red he was, but it was enough to make Emely gasp.

“I see…” Closing his eyes, Doyle sat on the empty stool and laid his left elbow on the counter. “Seems like we’ll have a lot to discuss. So while we’re doing that, we might as well eat, right hon?” Following her husband’s lead, Emely sat next to him.

“Right, I am a little hungry. Who knows, I might build up an appetite as we talk?” While the two ordered their meals, I looked back at Markus. He was anxious as could be. His hands clenched in fear. He took a few moments to look me in the eye. He didn’t say a thing, but I could tell what he wanted to say.

‘I’m sorry.’

To reassure him, I shook my head and smiled at him before his parents got to talking.

Most of the questions they had were about what I expected. How long we’ve known each other, what we did each time we met, if we went to places besides the park, etc. All while eating our meal.

Anytime Doyle had a question for me, he’d look me dead in the eyes, daring me to look away as if I was lying or hiding something.

Accepting his challenge, I kept my eyes locked on his. Answering quickly and without hesitation, I’m pretty sure Doyle didn’t expect me to stare back at him. I couldn’t tell just by looking at his stoic expression.

I remembered what Vinny and Lenore said afterward. Even though they had nothing to do with it, they felt just as tense as Markus and I. Lenore did enjoy it since it was like watching a live drama scene that she watches on TV.

The questions eventually ended, leading to a lecture that would decide the fate of my relationship with Markus.

“Markus, our son, is an honest, bright young man who could certainly use more courage and self-confidence. He’s been that way ever since he started school. He’d rather face the consequences of his actions and speak honestly rather than lie about it to avoid getting into trouble. He has lied to us before, but only for trivial matters.” Emily nodded in agreement with her husband.

“As he got older, he gained more and more confidence. And we noticed a significant jump in said confidence as the years went. Whether he had trouble with an assignment or an art piece he was working on that got him stumped, he always seemed to have resolved his woes a few days later. He would tell us that it was because his friends would help him. Of course, we met his friends and know they’re smart enough to do so. So we never suspected him in the slightest.” Finishing his burger first, Doyle gave Markus a pointed look before scowling.

“That’s why when we got a call from his school asking if he got home safely, we were naturally shocked. Good thing you’re mother remained calm and collected at that moment. Otherwise, I would’ve called the police right away. And if the police found you with Miss Trisha here, well…I don’t have to finish that sentence, do I?”

No, you most certainly don’t, Doyle. You certainly don’t.

“I surmised that maybe, Markus snuck out with his closest friends to celebrate. Markus never did like big crowds. Then, we just had to guess where they’d go. Since Markus often brought up that he’d be in Correlia Park, that’s where we first headed.”

“Right. That’s when we found you here. Only you weren’t with your friends like we thought you were.” My whole body froze on instinct when Doyle’s eyes met mine. “Markus, I knew you’d become bolder as you got older, but I never expected you to hide something like this from us. And for four years at that.” Noticing how uncomfortable I looked, Emely nudged Doyle on his shoulder.

“So, Miss Trisha. I’ll ask again. What is my son to you? What makes you so special to him that he’d be willing to lie and hide you from us for so long?”

And there it is. The most important question Doyle had for me was. I could’ve answered him in so many ways. All of them would lead to some sort of misunderstanding. Instead of panicking, I smiled and took a deep breath.

“I love Markus for the same reasons you do. Being honest is given in a relationship, so I’m glad he has that in strides. I find his shyness cute, but I also knew he’d be a lot cooler if he could give himself more credit. It took time, but he eventually took compliments well rather than bouncing them back out of self-depreciation. His earnest personality made it a joy to guide him in his arts and studies. He never lacked the motivation to strive forward. Of course, he’s just as cute in appearance as he is in his shyness.”

The more I laid my feelings out, the redder my face became and the softer my voice got.

“I’ve had plenty of suitors in my youth, but they were all jerks more interested in my body. I wanted someone who likes me for who I am. A woman who wants an earnest husband that’ll treat her right. And Markus is that man.” Standing up from his stool, Markus grabbed my left hand tightly.

“There you have it. Mom, Dad. Trisha helped me with my schoolwork, improved my artistic ability, and gave me the confidence to keep going when I felt stuck.”

“Did she give you that confidence by sleeping with you?” As I found out, Doyle never shied away from speaking his mind.

“D-DAD?!” Watching us turn red in embarrassment, Vinny and Lenore nearly bust a gut as they tried their best not to make a scene and laugh.

“I swear my life and my whole career that I’d never once engaged in sexual activity with Markus! The most I’ve done that could be considered remotely sexual was kissing him on his forehead.”

“…” Despite our embarrassment, Markus kept his grip and glared back at his father. Keeping his cool, Markus didn’t look away from his father. Seeing Markus’s mind was made up, Doyle eventually caved in and sighed in resignation.

Turning to Emely for her opinion, she simply smiled and nodded before looking back at Markus and me.

“…alright. Son, I recognize that you’re dead serious about this. And the same does to you, Miss Trisha. The age difference between you two isn’t small by any measure. But I can see that Markus thought this through and still loves you. As long as you promise not to take advantage of our son’s trust and love for you, I won’t have an issue with this relationship.” Again, Emely agrees and nods with her husband.

It’s natural for parents to be overprotective of their child. Still, Markus and I will eventually become parents ourselves.

“That’s not a problem at all! As I’ve told you before, I work at TMRC, so I have no issue supporting us financially.”

“Good. Now that we got that out of the way, we should head home. Markus, you as well.”

“What? But I’m not done with my celebration with Trisha here.” Crossing her arms, Emely walked past Doyle and scowled at Markus.

“Markus, we only approved of your relationship with Miss Trisha here. We never said you weren’t in trouble.” Walking forward to stand next to Emely, Doyle nodded in agreement.

“Your mother’s right. It doesn’t change that you lied to us and hid this kind of relationship behind our backs. So for your punishment, you will focus solely on finding your career path and choosing the right college.”

“Ah…but…”

“Oh? Today’s a lot of firsts, huh? You’re actually going to argue this?” Before Markus could make things worse, I placed my hand on his right shoulder and shook my head.

“Listen. Your parents are right. Right now, you should focus on finding a good college where you can pursue your dream as a video game designer.” I knew it’d be better for Markus if he listened to his parents obediently. When I think about it now, it’s a stroke of sheer luck that Doyle and Emely accepted our relationship so quickly.

“I’m glad you agree with us, Miss Trisha. Because to make sure he remains focused, I forbid you two from meeting or texting one another until Markus’s birthday.”

“Wh-what?!” Though, I didn’t expect him to pull that on us. “A whole month?!”

“There a problem? A month is nothing compared to the four years you two kept us in the dark.” Much as I hated it, I couldn’t argue their logic, nor could Markus.

“Don’t worry, Miss Trisha. When it’s Markus’s birthday, we’ll let him talk and meet you again. At that point, he’d be an adult anyways, so we won’t be able to stop him.” With Emely’s parting words, she and Doyle left with Markus, leaving me alone with Vinny and Lenore staring at each other before turning their attention to me.

“What I just witnessed…boy, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored whenever you’re around, Trisha! Congrats on winning his parent’s approval.”

“Thanks. I honestly thought I was fucked when they showed up out of nowhere.”

“It doesn’t help that they overheard us earlier. You’re lucky Markus’s parents were so understanding. Emely especially.” Vinny was on point there. Emely was more understanding of my situation than Doyle initially was. I wasn’t sure at first if it was just a woman’s intuition or if Emely could relate in some way. Thankfully, I got my answer pretty quickly a week after Markus got grounded.

I got a text from Emely asking me to meet her in private at Kitty Gritty Cafe. That’s how I learned about it in the first place and where Nala and Mala eventually worked for their final test.

“I’m sorry for the rough reception my husband Doyle gave you earlier. He’s he tends to overanalyze everything. Though I promise he means well.”

“It’s alright. I’d be just as frustrated if I found out my kid hid something like this.” With some paw-print-shaped pastries and fruity shakes to keep our bellies occupied, Emely wanted to discuss the finer details of her relationship.

“Doyle and I were high school sweethearts. So in a way, the relationship you and Markus have is similar to mine and Doyle’s, only we were around the same age. Doyle was as old-fashioned as could be when it came to romance. He’d write me cheesy letters, give me CDs with my favorite songs burned into them, and at one point, he took me to a flower field for a picturesque picnic date.” Though Emely made it sound like her dates with Doyle were goofy, she had a goofy smile the whole time she reminisced. Must be nice to have memories you spend with your lover like she has.

“Admittingly, while people made fun of him for his old-fashioned methods, I found it charming. So when we graduated, we decided to sneak out and pull a movie cliche straight from the nineties!” Putting her hands on her cheeks, Emely was blushing up a storm. “Rather than being cooped up in a flashy party with people we hardly cared about, we decided to find a hillside overlooking the school where we watched the party from afar. The lights were bright enough to be seen from where we were, but it was far away enough to the point where the surrounding area was quiet and relaxing. A little bit of kissing and some fondling later…” Emely’s voice up until her last sentence was something you’d expect from someone innocent and sweet. Her tone after that…

“I couldn’t wait any longer. The redness on Doyle’s cheeks and the awkward way he played with my chest awakened the woman in me. So I pounced and made him into a man that night!” Emely’s voice turned raspy as she started hyperventilating from reminiscing her first time with Doyle with her eyes closed. She was even drooling at one point, which unsettled Porshka and me. “Doyle was smart enough to bring condoms, but he only had one on him. Despite his hesitation, when I mounted him for the second time, I knew he secretly wanted it since near the end of it, he embraced me tightly before shooting his last load inside me…” After opening her eyes, Emely’s whole face turned red when she saw me, Porshka, and some of the customers and employees nearby staring at her with mixed emotions that ranged from embarrassment, intrigue, arousal, and shock.

“A-ahem! Anyway, a few weeks later, I noticed that my period didn’t come around like it usually did. Taking a pregnancy test the same day, it came back positive…”

“Wow. So you got pregnant the day you and Doyle graduated?”

“Yup. Because of my mistake, I had to take it easy the first two years we were together. My plans to go to college were down in the water, and Doyle had to bounce between helping me care for Markus when and the studying he did for College.” Emely clearly felt guilty for what happened from the frown on her face. After a bite of her strawberry parfait, she shook her head and smiled.

“Even when things felt miserable between working, studying, and raising Markus, Doyle never once blamed me for it. To make sure Markus wouldn’t go through something similar, we did everything to make sure he wouldn’t make the same mistakes as we did. Thankfully, we were worrying for nothing.

“What do you mean?” I was munching away at a blueberry muffin while listening to Emely’s story.

“So, you know that Markus is currently grounded, right?” I gave Emely a quick nod before she continued. “Doyle figured we’d use the time he’d have to himself to focus on finding a college for him to attend. But he already had a college picked out, looked up what classes he needed to take to get the degree, and even bought the necessary books and materials for his classes. He was well prepared and gave you all the credit for it.” His parents weren’t the only people he kept secrets from. I didn’t know he planned that far ahead at the time.

“Me? I only told him to work hard for his dreams to come true.”

“And that’s exactly what stirred him on. His dream before meeting you was to be a game designer, right? His priorities changed because he had a new dream that was more important than that. He wanted to grow up to be a fine, dependable man you’d consider his equal. He still needed to achieve his first dream, of course.”

“I see…” As picturesque as it’d be to welcome Markus home after a hard day at work, the reality would be quite the opposite. He’d be waiting for me to come home after a hard day at work. I wonder if he knows how to cook.

“Ahaha…I appreciate his sentiment, I really do, but I’m sure he knows I’d make more money considering my job. Not to mention the age gap between us.”

“Ah, that’s right. Speaking of the age gap between you two, I wonder if you realized something from the story of how Markus came to be earlier?”

“Hmm? You had Markus when you two just graduated, right?”

“That’s right. Since you’re twenty years older than Markus, that makes you around thirty-seven. Though, Markus will be eighteen in about two weeks…”

“Right. You guys had Markus when you and Doyle graduated. And…oh. I’m older than you two…”

“Yup. I realized it immediately when we overheard you two at the ‘Pounded Burger’. Doyle was too busy with the age gap between you and Markus to notice. It wasn’t until he questioned Markus again that he realized it.” I should’ve realized that soon after her story.

To date a couple’s kid younger than you by a year? It’s…well, it’s awkward.

“Anyway, I hope you’ll be patient with Doyle the next time you two meet. He’s a stubborn piece of work, but I promise he’s a good man.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s what any parent would do.”

“I’d like to say I agree with you, but not all parents are like that. Still, I know Doyle will come around. Until then, know that you have my full support. Please, take care of my son.” Emely gave me a slight bow before standing up with her right hand extended for a handshake.

“Of course! I want to make his life as exciting and fulfilling as possible.” Standing up so I could shake her right hand with mine, she placed her other hand over mine before shaking it with a smile.

“Oh, and please, be patient with Markus. By now, I’m sure you know that he’s inexperienced.” The subtle way she squinted her eyes made it pretty obvious she was being suggestive, prompting me to chuckle before I played it off.

“I have no idea what you mean by that, but I assure you that I barely have any experience.”

“Huh? Wait a minute. You can’t expect me to believe you’ve never dated someone before, right?”

“That’s right. I’ve never dated anyone else before. Markus will be the first one.” Staring at me with a slack-jawed expression, Emely shook her head before tightening her grip on my right hand.

“I-I don’t believe you! How can someone as pretty and smart as you remain single and dateless your whole life?!”

“I explained that part back at the Park, didn’t I? I worked as a Mercenary and Bodyguard in my twenties.”

“That wouldn’t stop you from dating, let alone sleeping with someone!”

“Who do you take me for?! I have standards! The only guys interested in me back in my world were a bunch of pervy old and young men! I don’t want a one-night stand. I want a husband!” After making a scene that Emely and I later had to apologize to Porshka, we went our separate ways.

The two and a half weeks went by in a flash. So, with Markus’s birthday present in my purse and an awkward handshake and talk with Doyle later, we reunited in Correlia Park to celebrate his birthday after hanging out with his friends.

“So, did you have fun on your eighteenth birthday?” We kept things simple for our meeting, so we sat at the same bench where we first met.

“I did. Though, I think I’ll enjoy this moment here more. After all, we haven’t seen or talked to each other for a whole month…”

“Ehehe. Aww, I feel the same way…” There was so much I wanted to tell him now that we don’t have to hide our relationship. It’s hard to pick out what I should say first. Like what I like about him, the plans I have for us in the future, things like that.

Though, before any of that…

“Markus…”

“Hmm?” When he turned to look at me, I grabbed him by his cheeks. Turning red the moment I laid my hands on them, I caressed the surface of his freckled cheeks with my thumbs before smiling at him.

“Happy eighteenth birthday…” That’s when I gently held onto his cheeks to keep him still, kissing him for the first time on the lips. As much as I wanted to give him a deeper, more intimate kiss, I figured I’d say that for later when we’re alone.

It was satisfying seeing Markus going stiff from just a peck. I wonder what he’d do when we go all in?

“Puwah! Sorry for the abrupt end there. I’ll have to save your ‘true’ kiss when we’re alone.” When I whispered seductively close to his right ear, Markus blushed before backing away.

“T-true kiss?” Too cute! I want to pounce so badly! But no, I got to calm down. “Here’s your present, by the way. I figured I should get you something nice to celebrate your eighteenth birthday.” I reached into my purse to pull out the birthday gift I got for him a week ago.

“Ah, thank you, Trisha.” Wasting no time, he tore through the gift wrap and opened his present. “It’s the latest model tablet I’ve been using!” Markus had used the same tablet to draw with ever since I met him, so I figured I’d spoil him and get him the latest model. After playing around with the tablet, he put it aside.

I’m not sure if it was the kiss or if he was just tired that day, but soon after giving him his gift, he leaned against my right shoulder and fell asleep.

“All tuckered out? Well…get a good rest then…” Spending most of the day waiting for him to wake up and the rest after going out to eat, I sent him back home around nighttime. I wanted to do more things with him, but now we have all the time in the world to do those things later.

The dates we went to from there were mostly the same, only we got to display our affection publicly and more intimately. Around November, I had to focus on my task as Kilala and Reiza’s Chaperone for their final test in TMRC, so we didn’t see each other for the whole week. Though we did call and text each other whenever I was done or was on my break.

Then, on December, a day before graduation day in TMRC, Markus wanted to meet me at Correlia Park park again. He said he was already there waiting for me, so I dropped what I was doing and headed there. He was sitting in our usual spot and bundled up from head to toe.

“Markus, did I keep you waiting?” It was close to Christmas time, so the park’s light poles had snow powdered wreaths, ribbons, and brightly lit Christmas lights wrapped around each one. It was cloudy that day, so they had the lights on already, even though it was only four in the afternoon.

“Nah. I’ve only been here for half an hour. Come on, sit down.” Brushing the snow piled on the bench away, he patted the spot he cleared for me before I sat down.

“I thought you hated the cold? You look like you just got back from a blizzard.”

“I do…but today’s a picturesque snowy day. So I thought it’d be more meaningful to give this to you while it’s like this out here…” Markus got up before moving in front of me. “I remembered when you’d bring Karika and Reiza up whenever you’ve got a new story about Faulkner to share with me. I kind of feel bad for him. The shenanigans he has to deal with must be tiring, but I admire how patient and kind he is to them despite it. A part of me feels like I should wait until I meet him in person, but I wanted to emulate him and give this to you beforehand…” Before I could say anything, he pulled out a small black box with a red ribbon tied around it.

“It’s a bit early, but here’s your Christmas present.” Taking the box from him, I opened it and got a tiger-striped cloth. “It’s meant to be an accessory you tie on your hair. And don’t worry, the tiger pattern there is for show only. It’s not from a real tiger.” It was pleasantly soft and plush as I rubbed my fingers on it.

“I have to ask, what gave you the idea to get me something like this?”

“That’s easy. You sounded jealous of Karika and Reiza whenever you brought up the accessories Faulkner bought for them.” As embarrassing as it was to admit, Markus was dead on with his guess. To me, seeing the accessories Faulkner got for them was kind of like a symbol of his love for them. I wanted something like that for myself. So when Markus got one for me, I couldn’t help but giggle with glee.

“Hehe…do you mind putting it on for me? I want you to put it at the left side of my bangs where it’s a bit longer.” Feeling his hands shake when I handed the cloth back to him, he shook his head before taking on a stoic expression.

Thankfully, Markus had gotten bolder as our dates went on. I heard that some human women find men who wait for the girl to make the first move boring. While I understand their reasoning, I’ve been around men who would always make the first ‘move’. To me, it was awful. They cared little about consent, nor did they have any consideration for how they made me feel. It took all my power to control myself and not beat those men to a bloody pulp. It was even harder here on Earth since I couldn’t fight back. Otherwise, I’d get accused of being the aggressor.

With Markus, I feel completely at ease. His considerate and gentle nature won me over the moment I met him. I just refused to believe it to be love until a year after I first met him out of consideration for the age gap between us. I’m so happy he loves me the same way I love him. Though, now I’m afraid of becoming a hypocrite.

Because as much as I appreciate Markus’s consideration, I wish he’d be just a smidge more forward.

“There, how does that look?” I pulled my phone out and used my cellphone camera to look at my face. Dangling nicely on the left side of my bangs, I remember cradling the soft cloth with my fingertips before smiling back at him.

“I love it. I won’t have to feel jealous anymore. I can proudly display my hubby’s affection for all to see!” Feeling the need to do a little twirl, I poked Markus on the tip of his nose. “By the way…I know you’ll be too busy with your family to come with me to the graduation ceremony at TMRC. When I’ done with that, do you have plans with your family on Christmas Eve?”

“No, I should be free that day.”

“Good. I want to spend at least Christmas Eve with you. Alone.” Knowing what I was implying, Markus blushed lightly before nodding.

“Sure, I can’t wait!” The rest of the day went by as Markus was content drawing on the new tablet, painting the snow-riddled statue of Noire, Joseph, and their baby girl Mary. By the time he finished, it was dark out. So I drove him home before resting for the graduation ceremony.

____________________

A bit of gloating after Karika, Reiza, and Faulkner saw the gift Markus gave me and a nerve-racking speech later, I felt a knot in my chest that told me I should be honest with Faulkner after he sarcastically told me to say hello to my ‘hubby’.

What would Faulkner say to me when I tell him the truth? Would he reprimand me for keeping a secret from him for so long? He’d probably get mad or offended that I kept it from him for so long.

But the conversation I had with him just now proved me wrong. He didn’t reprimand me or scold me. He simply asked for the truth and supported my decision. He’s truly my closest friend. Maybe even more than that if I hadn’t met Markus.

“Faulkner sure sounds like a great guy. I’m surprised you didn’t go out with him.”

I should stop reminiscing now and focus on the task at hand.

“Hah, him?! Well…I guess if I hadn’t met you, probably. He’s an asshole at times. And my first impression of him wasn’t great. But deep down, he’s a good guy. Still, my heart already belonged to you before I met him.” I’m guessing based on intuition, but I think Markus sounded jealous. I’d better put his mind at ease and show that I love him, not Faulkner. Moving the bedsheets out of the way, I crawled on Markus and sat on his waist. Then, leaning down, I stopped just before our lips would touch.

“Now then…it’s time for your first ‘true’ kiss…”

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