Two weeks later, Project 13 received a letter from the publisher. She looked at the envelope apprehensively and passed it to me. “Please read it for me, Bunny. I can't bear to look,” she said, covering her eyes with her hands.
I winced a little as I opened the envelope. Did you ever get that feeling that something bad was about to happen? I felt it then. I read the letter aloud, “Dear Miss Lim, we are pleased to receive your manuscript and we read it with interest. However, the writing is still too raw and we do not feel strongly enough for the story to publish it. Best regards, Nicholas Tan, Editor-in-chief.”
Project 13 let out a sigh. “What do I do now?It's over, isn't it?” She started blankly at the letter. Her eyes started to become teary. I passed her a tissue and put my arm around her. “Don't feel too bad, maybe you can try another publisher?”
“Very few local publishers are interested in science fiction and I don't even know if I am good enough.” Big tears started to flow down her cheeks and she started to sob uncontrollably. “Come with me, you need some fresh air,” I said, holding her hand and heading out.
“But it's 5.30am,” she said, as I pulled her out of the house. She was still in her nightgown but I dragged her to the parking lot where my motorcycle was. I passed a helmet to her. “Bunny, since when did you ride a motorcycle?” she asked.
“Wear it, I will take you somewhere nice.”
Reluctantly while still sniffing, Project 13 put on the helmet and climbed on the seat at the back. “Hold on tight,” I said as I turned on the engine. She held my waist tightly as we sped off.
I wanted to take her to a place I always go to whenever I felt confused and fed up with things. Somehow, sitting on the sand, while watching the waves while the sea breeze blows, always calms me down. I was taking her to East Coast Park, a beach park situated at the southeastern coast of our island city. Project 13 leaned her head on my shoulder. While riding my motorcycle, I could still hear her sobbing behind me.
I parked my bike and while holding her hand tightly, we both walked towards the beach. “I don't think I've ever been here,” she said. Project 13 took out her slippers and walked on the sand barefooted. “The wind feels wonderful.” She closed her eyes and felt the wind in her hair. I was happy to see that her tears had finally stopped.
“Take a seat, the sun will rise soon,” I said. Project 13 sat down on the sand next to me. She looked thoughtfully at the sea in front of her.
“Just now, I felt as if time has stopped and I felt so helpless. But now, I know, time has not stopped and the sun will still rise again,” she said. She rested her head on my shoulder and added, “I think I need to grow a little stronger. Who knows how many more rejection letters lie in store for me. Bunny, is my writing bad?”
I looked at the waves and thought for a moment before answering, “It's not because your writing is bad, it's probably because the story was too complicated for a first attempt."
"Really? But I love action and science fiction." She turned and looked at me.
"Yeah, but maybe it's too ambitious for a first book? It is best to start with something simple and write about what you know."
"Write about what I know. But I don't really know anything," she said, scratching her head.
"I'm sure there is something you can write about."
"My bunny?" She thought aloud.
"Yes, write a story about youur bunny."
She fell silent for a long while. "I don't know if I can."
"It hurts me to think about him. writing about him, would be like, walking on shattered glass, without any shoes on. Do you understand?"
"I think so." It was the same reason why I didn't want to sleep proper hours. The sun started to rise in front of us. The sun, like an orange ball, rose from the waters and soon filled the whole sky with its light. It was dark not too long ago but we could see everything around us clearly now. I looked at Project 13. Her eyes were still red and puffy, but she looked determined.
"I'll write a story about my bunny. Although it may be painful remembering him, I think it is more painful to forget about him."
I put my arm around her and squeezed her tightly to my side. "That's the spirit. Now let's go for breakfast."
We ended up at McDonalds for breakfast. I kinda figured Project 13 was a Hotcakes type of person. It's something kids will like. All I wanted was coffee. Turns out my guess was right.
"Please get for me the hotcakes meal with milo!" she said, taking a seat. The place was crowded with familes, joggers and couples. I realised that I'm so used to seeing Project 13 in a nightgown that it seemed perfectly normal to me. However, she attracted quite a few stares from the people around us.
I stood in line when I heard a male voice call out,"Ethan!" I turned around to see Ming standing there with a big smile.
"Hey, what are you doing here? Thanks again for giving me that drawing lesson," I said.
"No problem. I actually stay around here. My family felt like having breakfast from McDonald's today so after casting votes, I was picked to get it."
I thought that his family sounded so normal and even slightly cheery. Ming probably breaks the typical angsty artist mould.
"What are you doing here?" Ming asked.
"I'm here with someone," I said, motioning to Project 13. Ming looked at her direction and froze. "Is that Lara?" he asked, staring at Project 13. "It's her, isn't it?" He walked towards her and I followed after him. Did they know each other?
"Lara?" Ming cried, looking at her.
"Ming Fu, is that you?" she asked. She stood up to take a closer look at him.
"Long time no see."
"How do you know each other?" I asked, butting in.
"We were neighbours when we were kids and we always played together. But then, my family moved." He reached out and held her hand. "I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. I wanted to come to her funeral but I was abroad. She was such a kind woman."
"She really doted on you too. She really loved having you over for dinner."
"What's your mobile phone number?" Ming asked, whipping out his cell phone.
"I don't have one but if you want to reach me, you can call Bunny," she said, turning to me.
"Bunny? Is that you, Ethan?" He eyed me suspiciously.
I hurriedly tried to explain, "It's complicated, but if you want to find her, you can go to her place. It's the same address."
Ming raised his eyebrows. "Wait, are you two living together?"
"Bye Ming, see you another time!" I quickly pulled Project 13 with me towards the exit. "Bye Ming Fu!" she cried, leaving Ming behind with a puzzled expression.
I only made things worse with my explaination. But then, I didn't want Project 13 telling Ming that I was her muse and pet. I held her hand all the way to the parking lot. "Ming was your first love, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he is."
"You like him, don't you."
"Do you still love him?"
"I don't know."
"Do you like me?"
"Of course, you are my bunny," she said, reaching out to pat my head. I knew that Project 13 would never lie but I couldn't believe her. As we rode back to her house, a sour feeling started to overcome me. Is this what you called jealousy? It felt as if flesh-eating bacteria was eating away at your heart and you find it hard to breathe. Ming was her first love and he also knew her past self. But I had her present, or did I? I thought back to how Ming held her hand. It looked so natural. I was just the bunny who cooked and cleaned for her.
"I'm sorry we didn't manage to have breakfast. I can make better pancakes for you if you want?" I said, after we reached home. "It's alright, I am feeling extremely exhausted. I think I need some sleep before I start on a new story." With slumped shoulders, she walked to her bedroom.
I plonked myself infront of the almost-blank canvas. I think I know what it was I wanted to paint. I took out my sketchbook (given by my friend-turned-rival Ming) and started to draw the outline. Basically it was two rabbits watching the sunrise.
Not long later, I received a phone message from Ming: Hi Ethan, may I ask what is your relationship with Lara?
I decided to ignore him and continued sketching. Ten minutes later, he messaged again: Is she your girlfriend?
Sheesh, what happened to the calm and collected Ming, I used to know?
I felt like replying with the message, "We are sleeping together." Except, I didn't think he will get the joke. So I replied: I'm just helping her through a difficult time.
Ming replied: Are you two friends with benefits?
I guess I wasn't the only one feeling jealous. I wanted to concentrate on my outline so I turned off the phone.
That evening to my horror, Ming appeared at our doorstep. Project 13 was sitting on the sofa, writing down some ideas on her notebook while I was still mulling in front of the canvas when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," I said, quickly getting up and running to the door. Imagine my surprise upon seeing Ming in front of me.
"So you two are really staying together!" he exclaimed, pointing at me.
"Look," I said, quickly stepping out of the house and closing the door behind me. "I will be frank with you. She has been going through a rough time since her pet rabbit died. After that, she started calling me Bunny. Yes, we do live together, but all I do is cook and clean for her, that's all. We are not sleeping together."
Ming seemed to believe my explaination. "I see, I am sorry for doubting you like that. It's just...Lara is different from how I remebered her. She used to be so full of life and now she seemed like a deflated version of who she was. She looks so frail and I can't help but worry."
"You don't have to worry. Despite how she looks, she is on the right track."
"Even though she wears her nightgown in public?" asked Ming.
"She just needs time to get stronger," I said. "Anyway, since you are here, do you want to have dinner? I cooked pasta." Ming nodded in reply. He entered the house and I could hear Project 13 greeting him. She looked glad to see him.
The thing about men is that the more you push them away, the more they want to come in. It is probably better for me not to push Ming away too much, or not, he might start seeing Project 13 without me around.
The both of them chatted like the old friends they were and it was the first time I saw Project 13 so engertic. It is like she reverted back to that lively kid who played with Ming. I left the two of them alone and retreated to the kitchen. As I cooked the pasta, I thought that Project 13 would most likely be happier with someone like Ming. Someone with less scars. Why did the thought of it make me sad?