By the time Jacque texted me, the entire plaza outside was dark except for nearby building lights. The library was still packed, people either frantically studying for exams or idly chatting with friends. I pushed my chair in and then exited. The graphic artist sat on a bench near the entrance.
“Yo Yuki. Let’s get going,” Jacque said, standing up.
We descended to the parking garage. Jacque pointed at a plain sedan. I didn’t know his salary, but he didn’t seem like the type to blow it all on a car. Five minutes later, Jacque parked outside of an apartment building. These were top-notch living spaces, rivaling that of luxury suites in downtown where all the tech workers resided.
Mirei, why here? Maybe she felt bad and wanted to provide me reprieve from all the negativity. Or it was just to mess around with me. Either way, I would enjoy this.
“Yuki, what floor are you on?” Jacque questioned.
“11th floor and Room 11-1,” I said, checking the information on my phone.
“All ones, hope that doesn’t mean anything bad,” Jacque remarked.
I located my residence right away once we stepped out the elevator. Someone stood outside of it. Great, time to devise a convincing lie about Jacque.
“What’s up with the old man, Yuki?” he asked, motioning with his head at the hero.
“Minato?” I said with care, not believing my eyes.
This definitely was a ruse by Mirei. He did not exist in the world I knew. Minato made his introduction during that weird alternate dimension she showed me. I also wasn’t a college student in this reality either. What was Mirei trying to pull?
“Sounds like we’re strangers or something. Makes sense since we haven’t talked lately. Seriously, who’s this geezer?” Minato leaned against the wall.
“I’m Yuki’s cousin. Used to be a student at the university. Just checking in how she’s doing. You know, parents were all like ‘Oh, you should make sure she’s doing alright!’ You know how things are,” Jacque lied.
“Cousins, huh? Must be a long story,” Minato remarked, looking at Jacque.
“Definitely,” I confirmed.
“I wanted to give you something, Yuki. Pretty sure you haven’t been cooking recently so here’s a little something. Share it with this “cousin” of yours. See ya tomorrow,” Minato offered, tossing me a wrapped bundle and sauntered off.
Jacque let out a sigh of relief. I certainly did not expect that. Something random to confuse me or did it contain a deeper meaning? I unlocked the door and we both walked in. Jacque turned on the lights, illuminating a beautiful living room with expensive furniture.
“Damn, you’re rich Yuki. You know that guy?” Jacque asked.
“It’s a long story,” I replied.
I unwrapped the cloth and discovered four boxes stacked on top of each other. Cracking open the uppermost one revealed restaurant quality food.
“Such dedication. I don’t think have enough motivation for anything like this,” Jacque commented.
“This is crazy. He’s still a good chef even here,” I muttered, unpacking all the boxes.
“Someone’s calling me. I’ll be back,” Jacque apologized, walking out onto the small balcony.
Time to eat. I noticed a pair of chopsticks wrapped in the cloth. Minato placed way too much thought into this.
“I’ll try but I don’t know if I can finish it by that date. Can I get an extension? Two, no, three days will be enough,” Jacque said.
What else was around here? I checked underneath the coffee table and saw a remote control. I turned on the TV. Nothing too interesting so far. Jacque returned with a concerned expression on his face.
“Jacque, feel free to eat. I can’t finish all of this,” I offered.
“Thanks, Yuki,” Jacque said, retrieving a fork from underneath the table.
“You have a project going on?” I asked about the phone call.
“Nothing too special. Just something an editor wants done. I might get replaced,” Jacque revealed.
“Sounds tough, when’s the deadline?” I questioned.
“Sometime next week, I’ll start working on it after the weekend. I still have edits for a personal project,” Jacque replied.
“Something you’ve been working for a long time?” I wondered what it could be.
“Uh, you could say that. Long asked me when we were sophomores. I really should get back to him on it. That guy makes great food,” Jacque sidestepped my question, revealing no more details.
“Yeah, he’s a pretty good cook,” I agreed.
“What if no one wants to get back into the game?” I questioned, curious about his investment.
“Eh, same as always. Just live life one day at a time and hope I don’t f*** up. Yuki, let’s be real, my life isn’t exactly the best,” Jacque answered.
“Doesn’t seem that way to me. Your outlook on life hasn’t changed at all,” I noted.
“Yeah, pretty hard to break the cycle. You think after making the same mistakes, it would be different. A little better, but not by much. It’s nice to get the old group back together, but if not, nothing changes for me,” Jacque remarked.
“Who have you kept in contact with all these years?” I was curious about how connected all the heroes were with.
“Mostly Long and Shigetzu. I see Jin whenever he’s back here. Everyone else has been moving around. Actually, I see Konoe more than everyone else. She is my boss,” Jacque replied.
“Felicity, huh? How’s she been?” I inquired.
“Konoe’s the same. A little more calm, not as excited. She’s still pretty stubborn though,” Jacque answered.
“By how much? Felicity’s just at 110\% all the time,” I asked for clarification.
“Definitely not way up there anymore. She’s running all the companies underneath that big umbrella her family built. Pretty good boss so I can’t complain,” Jacque laughed.
“Must have been hard after losing so many members. How did you guys deal with it?” I finally hit on something serious.
“Mmmm, not too bad for me since I just joined. Long really felt it since he was so close with Kyoi and Ruiqi. Tess was really hard for everyone, I mean, she held everything together. I can’t imagine how much it hurt for everyone else since they knew each other for awhile,” Jacque explained.
“Sorry to bring it up. Let’s talk about something else,” I realized my question might have been too poignant.
“Don’t worry. You had to ask eventually. Might as well get it out of the way,” Jacque assured me.
He didn’t have glasses on, most likely having contacts in. The man wore a black leather jacket over a festive sweater. His blue jeans were faded but not worn. Not much change in the clothing choice.
“Something on my face?” Jacque asked.
“Nothing like that. Just seeing what’s changed,” I answered.
“Pretty much the same, except older and still the same procrastinator. Not too hardcore because I don’t want to get fired. That would be bad,” Jacque said, his usual sense of humor still present.
The doorbell chimed and my television screen switched automatically to a live feed outside the door. It displayed Zhuyu, hands in his vest pocket. A convenient feature, although creepy. I opened the door, letting him in.
“Any threats so far?” Zhuyu asked.
“No. Just eating. Do you want any?” I waved my hands over the food.
“I’ll decline. Did you…. no way. Who gave this to you?” Zhuyu questioned.
“Minato. It’s a long story,” I repeated my response from before.
“Right, anyways, good news and bad news,” Zhuyu announced, placing his phone on the coffee table.
“That new chapter finally came out?!” Jacque stared at Zhuyu with an exuberant look.
“No, but I really do want to know what happens next. Anyways, Darryl didn’t pick up any of my calls. Shigetzu’s okay with talking about things. That’s one person on board,” Zhuyu informed us.
“That’s great. Anything from Jin?” Jacque asked.
“I haven’t heard back. He’ll message me later on,” Zhuyu replied.
“You aren’t going to stay here the entire night, right? That would be really creepy,” I asked.
“No. I only assigned Jacque to you in case anything happened. Looks like it’s safe. Mirei wouldn’t kill you off so fast anyways. We should be more worried about ourselves,” Zhuyu replied.
“Can I go then?” Jacque asked, looking over at the zero vector user.
“Yeah. Yuki, give us a call if anything happens,” Zhuyu allowed.
“See you tomorrow, Yuki. Hold on, what’s the plan again?” Jacque questioned.
“You or I will take Yuki to the meeting spot. She can find something to occupy herself while we figure it out,” Zhuyu decided, glancing at his watch.
“Of course I can. I’m a hero after all and I have all your powers too,” I reminded him.
“Your understanding isn’t up there yet. You’ll be better than everyone else, maybe even Tess eventually,” Zhuyu praised me in an insulting manner.
“Thanks, I guess. Just go already. Don’t you have a girlfriend or something?” I teased.
“Not really, Yuki. Unless you’re talking about my math book, then yes, I certainly have a date with that,” Zhuyu sidestepped my question.
“Whatever, just get your asses out of here already,” I shooed.
I sat on the couch after they left. There were still way too many things that didn’t make sense. The appearance of Minato and his relevance. Mirei’s choice of this specific year where it appeared everyone was pretty secure, despite the losses suffered. I didn’t know what kind of game she was playing but it had me rattled. But not for long. I would continue on, making sure not to fall into any traps. After all, this wasn’t a true alternate timeline. Simply just a makeshift one or so I kept telling myself.
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