Breaking the news of their sister’s death to Booker was every bit as difficult as Yenn had imagined. Booker went through the motions of the first stage of grief, denial, within a matter of seconds; and then he settled into anger.
“And why are YOU still here? You’re only a few days younger than her,” he snarled at Yenn.
“Booker, you don’t mean what you’re saying,” Yenn said calmly. What would Chell do, she thought to herself.
“You should definitely at least have grey hair by now,” he ignored her. “Or a wrinkle… Anything! Anything to prove you’re human!”
Yenn burst into tears. “How can you say that Booker? You’ve known me for your whole life!”
Booker hid his face in his hands: “I’m sorry Yenn… I just… I don’t want to die yet. I’m so scared.”
Yenn held her brother’s hand: “I’m scared too, Booker.” I’m scared of still living, when you’re all gone, she added silently, in her head.
In the following days, Booker felt the increasing heavy weight on his shoulders. Of course, a part of it was dealing with his sister’s death, but there was more to it than that. His life was a mess.
He stared at the old shrivelled man in the mirror in disbelief. Who was this? Who had he become?
He’d always assumed that he’d have it all figured out once he’d get older. Being young, playing games with Keiko, not thinking about the future… and now it was the future. Except that nothing had changed.
Booker knew it was high time to take matters in his hands. Fix his mistakes. Fix his life. Before it was too late.
First of all, he finally retired. Whoever had heard of an elderly bodybuilder anyway? He must have looked pathetic in competitions, refusing to acknowledge his age.
He then proceeded to walk to the house next door. For years, both of the houses’ inhabitants had pretended their neighbour wasn’t there. Not anymore.
Keiko opened the door, visibly confused: “Booker? What are you doing here?”
She was dressed very casually, with minimal makeup and her hair tied back. Booker couldn’t help but notice that she still had an amazing figure, even after all these years. It was strange seeing her not being all dolled up. He couldn’t remember a time ever seeing her like that, even when they had been married.
“We better sit down for this,” Booker gestured towards the dining table.
“I came here to tell you that I forgive you,” Booker cleared his throat. “For all these years of pain you’ve put me through, for not being there for me when my parents died, for being selfish and distant when our child was growing up.”
Keiko’s eyes narrowed: “So you decided to actively seek me out just to insult me. Plum Booker, I thought we’d finally turned a new page…”
“Wait,” Booker interrupted her. “I also came to tell you that I understand. I don’t blame you for doing those things, I was far from being the perfect husband.”
He took a deep breath and continued: “And most importantly, I came here to apologise. When we met, I was young, stupid and woohoo-obsessed. I should have taken the time to get to know you, not just your body. I should have made you want to be there for me… I should have been there for you.”
“That’s a very sweet thought, Booker,” Keiko said calmly. “But I don’t think that’s quite where we went wrong. It’s the consequence, not the cause.”
“I see I’m not the only one who’s been doing some thinking,” Booker said in disbelief. This wasn’t the Keiko he knew. But he liked her. Much unlike the one he knew, actually.
“Well, what else is there to do when I’m on my own here, in this silly golden cage,” she shrugged. “I thought this was the life I wanted. Turns out, it’s pretty boring, actually.” She let out a laugh.
“I wish we had done things differently,” Booker nodded.
“I wish we hadn’t done things at all,” Keiko shook her head. “I know you never loved me, Booker.”
“You’re right, I didn’t,” he couldn’t quite look her in the eye when he said it. “I asked you to marry me for all the wrong reasons. But maybe I could have loved you… If I… If we… I don’t know.”
“I don’t blame you. I didn’t give you much of a chance to love me,” Keiko smiled sadly. “I married you for your money, Booker. But for what it’s worth, there was a time when I really loved you.”
They sat in silence for a while, the what-ifs flying about the room.
“Then again, if it never happened, we would never have Monty,” Keiko said encouragingly.
“That’s true,” Booker nodded. “That boy will go far.”
They both thought of Liv for a moment, but neither of them brought the subject up out loud. There were too many shoulda, coulda, wouldas related to that subject matter. And they were trying to make peace.
And for the most part, they did. Booker was leaving Keiko’s house feeling much calmer.
As for Keiko, the conversation left her unusually pensive. She’d not done a lot of reflecting in her younger days, and now it seemed to be what she did with most of her time.
In any case, she admired Booker for taking the first step towards making amends. Being around Monty with him would become so much easier now.
Booker approached the tiny trailer. The flamingo, the eccentric gnomes… Yep, this was definitely the right house. He climbed the steps before he could change his mind.
He stopped for a moment before knocking, gritting his teeth. He almost turned around and left… but he already had enough what ifs in his past. Time to do what’s right, instead of what’s comfortable, for once. He knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” the familiar voice called out.
“It’s me, Booker,” he called back nervously.
There was a pause which seemed to last an eternity.
“It’s open,” the voice responded at last.
“Hi Ellie,” Booker greeted his ex-girlfriend.
It was hard to read her; she had her sun glasses on and wasn’t looking his way at all.
“I was hoping we could talk,” he started awkwardly.
“I know I was horrible to you,” he said. “I was baffled. You were not like anyone I’d ever known. And when I was with you, I was not the man I knew myself to be either. But, for the first time, I was someone I could like. What I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry.”
“I thought you’d never say that,” Ellie beamed. “So, how have you been?”
They caught up with the recent events in each other’s lives. Booker watched Ellie as she rambled on adorably. He’d only now realised just how much he missed her.
“Ellie… is there a chance you could forgive me?” He looked at her hopefully.
She just smiled; “I already have.”
It was then when Booker knew that everything would be alright after all.