This couldn't be real.
Cherry was only twenty-six, much too young and alive to suddenly be dead. I could still hear her voice, smell her perfume, touch her. I did all that just hours ago.
Yury. I heard my name being called, but couldn't respond. I was in between two worlds, one where my material body had existed, and the other where Cherry now was.
In that moment, I realise I had lost everything.
You don't know what you have until you lose it. The thought lingered in my head as I scooped out fresh rice from my mother's rice cooker. I was in my first semester of university and already homesick for my mother's cooking.
"Ma, did you make the wontons?"
"Of course. It's inside the steamer. You didn't check."
"I did. It isn't there."
"Here!" My mother exclaimed, lifting the cover from a new steamer I hadn't seen before. The hot steam make me wince.
"When did you get that?"
"This? Just before you left. You've seen it before."
I hadn't, but decided to drop it. I was only home for a few days. I shouldn't waste time fighting.
"These wontons are the best. Nobody makes them like you do, ma."
She smiles. "How's university? Met anyone like Ms Lee yet?"
I shrug. "I don't know. If you ask me, Ms Lee was one of a kind. Don't know if I'll find a second one."
"She was nice to you, wasn't she? Took so much time from her day even though you were from the other class."
I nod. You need to have an uncommon heart to be kind to kids from Class E.
"It's different in uni, ma. Everyone just goes about their own things, even the teachers. They expect you to be independent."
"Independent is good."
I nod again. Going to university in the city was a world away from high school in the small town I grew up in. Probably a galaxy away. And the assignments. Just thinking about them exhausted me. I was glad I left them behind in my dorm.
"You know what's funny? I have a clique now."
Ma raised an eyebrow.
I was never part of any kind of any kind of clique in high school, so being part of one felt different. A good kind of different.
Everyone in the clique had something special to offer the group. For example, Tien's superpower was note taking. I could slack off in a class and still get notes after.
Every superhero group needs a name. Since there was seven of us, that's what we called ourselves, Seven.
It felt nice having people I could rely on for once.
There was something else I liked about Seven. Correction, someone else. Every time we hung out together after class, I found myself drawn to a shy girl who didn't say much, but seemed to show me the world through her eyes.
I felt a fluttering in my heart when our eyes met.
Slowly, but surely, I found myself in a new world: I was in love.
It was already seven in the evening when I arrived at Tiki's Bar. Take the day off, you'll need it, Kelly had told me.
If it had been any other day than today, I would have found so many things to do on a random day off. But today, I found it hard even to go to the bookstore which played my favourite music on Wednesdays.
So I found myself wandering aimlessly in the city, taking the longest walk in my life heading nowhere. I passed places I had been before, but many more that I hadn't. I met a few friends along the way. They greeted me, but I said nothing back to them. Words, especially my own, felt foreign today.
I would have gone on forever. There were too many thoughts in my mind I didn't want to sit down with, but I felt a sharp pain shoot up from my calves as I readied myself for another stretch.
My physical body was giving in. As painful as it was, it reminded me, at least, of what it meant to still be living. I needed to give it rest.
"One shot of Whiskey," I pointed at the menu to the bartender. He nodded, and went away.
It was a quiet bar. But maybe bars are usually this quiet on Wednesday nights. I wouldn't know - I'm usually home by now.
The bartender comes back with my drink. The moment it touches the table, I grab it and dunk the entire glass into my mouth.
I close my eyes. There's still something I've been avoiding all day that I need to do now.
I take my phone out. The number of unread messages had grown from a few hundred to over a thousand now.
I take a deep breath. Be brave, Yury.
For the first time since Cherry's hen's night, I open Seven's chat group.
In less than twenty-four hours, the messages had already gone through the five stages of grief.
Maybe it's a mistake. It isn't Cherry.
Yeah, it couldn't be. Cherry has no enemies.
Jet should have taken better care of her.
Cherry was way, way too friendly with strangers. She should have been more careful...
We should have gone for that one last hotpot before her wedding... if only we knew.
I was busy, but I should have made time.
Seven will never be the same without Cherry in it.
I think we should cancel our weekly hotpot. It just won't be the same now...
Dying at twenty-six has its perks. You'll always be young and beautiful and never get old, and wrinkly.
I remember she liked baby's breaths. Do you think we should tell Jet to have it on her funeral?
Something I hadn't arrived at yet. My stream of conversations with Cherry seemed to continue on without stop. I was still firmly in stage one: denial.
I typed and retyped my message to the group.
She liked baby's breath but carnations were her real favourites. No.
She also liked carnations, maybe we could have both? Scratch that.
Before I could type a new message, an incoming call came in.
Unknown number. I don't have a habit of picking up calls from unknown numbers, so I let it ring.
It stops. Then, rings again, then stops.
A few seconds later, a message comes in.
"Yury, it's officer Razlan. I need you to call me back."