30: Good-byes

Valerane got the whole story as they waited.

Mint had calmed down from her earlier outbursts, but refused to let go of his hand. Even when he stood up to get them something to drink, she came with him, refusing to be left alone. He would have thought it all romantic and such, if it weren't for the setting and the fact that they were in the hospital, surrounding by tons of people, some strangers, others were friends and family.

Valerine's mom was immediately notified by Mint as soon as they got to the hospital. Apparently, Valerine had raced in Mint's name, which had somehow caused a whole lot of confusion because the Mint that was supposed to race was supposedly a female, but in fact, is really a male.

"He turned the corner too sharp, it seemed," Mint told him quietly, her head resting on his shoulder. "I was going to surprise you while he was racing as me. I never thought that he would—that it would…"

Valerane squeezed her hand. "I told you it was a dangerous track."

She made a choking noise, "I thought I could have made it."

"With practice," Valerane told her truthfully. "But it would take forever to learn the kind of tracks that were in that area. Why do you think I dropped out?"

Mint hit him them, hard, on the arm.

"What was that for?" Valerane frowned, rubbing it.

"You lied to me!"

What was he supposed to say?

"You could have told me you dropped out cause you wanted to make a life with me!"

Valerane opened his mouth, an argument coming on, but stopped. He blinked again, and then an idiotic grin came across his face. "Are you proposing marriage—to me?!"

Mint flushed. Beet red, and covered her face with her hands. Of course she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, but she didn't mean for it to come out that way! Oh God, could her day get any worse?

Before they could say anything more beyond that, a nurse came out from the Emergency Room. She looked around, then asked for a Mrs. Kuyume. Simple enough, only, they took her away for more than half an hour. And when she finally came out, her eyes were red, and her expression was all that they needed, even so, Valerane just had to ask. He had to know for himself.

She didn't answer, rather the nurse answered for her. "Valerine Kuyume is gone. He died today at 2:15am."

It was like the whole world stopped—for both of them. People ceased to exist, everything slowed, blurred, and even melted together into black. It was like, they heard it, but they really didn't. The words would forever echo in their head, but not making a whole lot of sense.

Valerine…dead? No way! It was unbelievable. He was always so cheerful, so funny, so optimistic, with his easy going personality and forever grinning smile. It was impossible to imagine him gone from one's life, never to be seen again.

Lukis came running in, his expression panicked, his breathing heavy. He had heard that Mint had crashed—and burn. It had taken him a while to leave with the crowds of people rushing at him, but he was here. But, he blinked in confusion, as his eyes spotted Mint, standing next to Valerane.

It was kind of funny, in a weird sort of way, because like a long line of admirers, each and every one of them filled the waiting room. Alan, Snake, Sasuke, Alexis…the whole group of them. Even Ken Pierce, who possibly wouldn't miss the World Championship for the world, came in, with an unbelievable expression on his face. They had all come to see and to pray because they had heard it was Mint who had been involved in the incident.

Valerane shook his head at them, as his arm went around Mint's shaking body. "It was actually Valerine who went in for Mint."

They all breathe a sigh of relief.

"He didn't make it."

It was different without Valerine around. Mint had found she lost a friend and Valerane had found he lost a twin brother. Always, they had always been inseparable, sure they've had their fights, but it was just all apart of life. Never once did they think to be separated so soon, and so cruelly. The last time he had talked to him was before he had taken off, convinced Valerine to watch over Mint, at least until the week was up.

It was still unbelievably hard to imagine life without him. It was hard to imagine he was gone. But eventually, they knew, as with all dead people, that the dead will remain dead, and the living will remain living.

"She's not holding a funeral," Valerane told the others in the living room of Mint's house.

"What?" Alan glanced up, confused. "Why not?"

"She's moving," Valerane answered, "She's all packed and ready to start over."

"But where is she moving to?" Mint came in, bringing in the tray of tea and handling it out to the whole gang member. Although still sick with guilt because she blamed herself for agreeing to ever letting Valerine go in her place in the first place, she was actually doing a whole lot better than she thought she would. There were still circles under her eyes, and she did lose a few pounds, but on those sleepless nights, she would call Valerane over and they would huddle next to each other on the sofa, just staring off into space.

Apparently Valerane had enough sleepless nights too because whenever she called him, he always answered on the first ring.

"She's moving to Korea. She has a friend there who would be willing to take her in until she's ready to take care of herself."

"Does she want any help? Maybe we can help her pack and…" Mint trailed off at Valerane's shaking head. "No? Why not? Did you ask?"

"She wants to be left alone, Mint. She doesn't want to see us, at least, not for a while."

Mint possibly couldn't imagine how much that would hurt Valerane. He was like a second son to Mrs. Kuyume, to be told that she never wanted to see his face, at least not for a while, must have stung.

"I don't blame her," Aric spoke up, "Probably can't stand to see the people who caused his son's death."

"My fault," Mint covered her face and whispered.

Valerane was close enough to hear, and clasp her hands into his. "No it's not. Stop blaming yourself, Mint. You didn't cause the accident, nor did you cause his death."

Even so, she would have to apologize to Mrs. Kuyume. It didn't matter that she didn't want to see them for a while. "When is she leaving?"

"Almost done and ready to go," Valerane answered her quietly. "She'll probably be leaving within a day or so."

It had been one hell of a week. The worst part of it was, it wasn't even halfway done yet. Mint sigh, feeling her body sag and her eye closing, "I'm going to sleep," Mint told them, knowing full well she wouldn't be able to get any sleep at all, but she had a headache.

Mint was already on her feet, but Valerane grabbed her wrist and pulled her down for a quick kiss before letting her go. "Get some sleep." He demanded, while the others watched on, grinning.

Because it was a happier topic to talk about than the death of a friend, Alan frowned, "When are you going to marry her and get her out of my face?"

Valerane chuckled, "Who said anything about marriage?"

"Let's see, when you find someone you truly love, don't you want to bind them together by marriage?" Aric leaned back and drank from his cup, "I think you guys should hold off on the actual marriage, but hey, make her your fiancée. Declare to the world she's taken, otherwise, someone else might come along and take her from you."

Before Valerane could get another word out, the doorbell rang.

"Who would be visiting at this hour?" Alan frowned, about to get up, but Valerane shook his head.

"No. I'm expecting someone."

"Who?"

"It's a secret," Valerane told them. "I'll be back."

Mint didn't think to see him ever again, but somewho, Lukis always had a knack for showing up when Mint wanted to talk to him the most.

He was waiting by the tree near the park she had detour to. Her thoughts were still a jumble, and she really couldn't think of a way to apologize to Mrs. Kuyume for the death of her son. It was why she was in the park, trying to come up with the words so she wouldn't fumble them when she was saying them to Mrs. Kuyume.

"Sorry again for Valerine," Lukis didn't even bother to greet her when she stopped in front of him.

"Hi," Mint smiled, wondering if she'll ever get used to seeing his handsome face, his dark eyes and firm chin. "How are you doing?"

He made a grunt, "I don't know. What do you think?"

Mint nodded. "I'm glad you came to see me, Lukis."

"Yeah?" He smiled, not a hopeful smile, but a sad one. "I wanted to make sure you were happy with your decision."

"I am, in fact," Mint told him truthfully. "I think, in a way, you kind of led me to him."

"So he told you, didn't he?" Lukis straightened, "I think of it as the better man getting the girl."

Mint smiled ruefully, and teasingly at him, "Then perhaps you shouldn't have abandoned me all those years."

"Just as well," Lukis shook his head, chuckled, "I deserve someone who loves me anyway."

"You do, actually," Mint agreed. "I know you'll find her."

"I'm through chasing girls. I'm making sure they're coming to me from now on."

Mint laughed and went forward to hug him, "Just as so. Let me give you an advice: don't go looking for love, it'll come and find you."

He squeezed her tightly for a mere second, "I'll remember it. You take care of yourself, Minty."

"Where are you going to go now?"

Lukis shrugged his shoulders, turning away from her, "Whereever my ride takes me."

He was gone before she could even wave good-bye.

Mint turned around and head off to Mrs. Kuyume's house. Talking with Lukis helped her to form her apology. She realized that no matter how long she thought, how hard she tried, it wouldn't matter. The apology had to come from the heart, and if she stumbled or faltered…well…it was expected. You can't describe love, just like you can't describe an apology.

Surprisingly, just as she rounded the corner, the familiar car that Valerine's mom always drove passed her. She stopped, as the car settled on the curve before making her way towards Mrs. Kuyume, but when she saw her get out and shake her head, Mint stopped.

Mrs. Kuyume made her way towards Mint instead, a smile on her face. She glanced back at the car once more, a bit nervous, before turning to look at Mint, "Hello, darling." She said as she stopped in front of her.

"Mrs. Kuyume," Mint bowed. "I just wanted to stop by and see if you needed any help packing—"

"Oh, no no, "she shook her head. "I'm done actually. I was going to stop by your place to talk to you before I leave."

Mint looked surprised, "You're leaving today?"

Mrs. Kuyume nodded, "Yes. My packing was done early…. I was going to thank you for helping to bring my son out of his misery ever since you came back."

Mint smiled sadly, "I wanted to apologize…. I feel like I'm responsible for his death…."

She shook her head. "It's not your fault. I warned that boy to stop racing, and he never lisens."

"I'm really, really, really sorry, Mrs. Kuyume," Mint bowed again, not able to show her face, "If I dropped out rather than let him race as me—"

Mrs. Kuyume came forward and embraced her, "It's not your fault."

Mint's eyes blurred. "He was such a good friend, always cheering you up, making you smile…."

"Yes…yes he was," Mrs. Kuyume replied after a while, and then, "Mint."

Mint tried to pull back to see Mrs. Kuyume's expression, but she wouldn't let her, "I'm sorry too," she whispered into Mint's ear. "I'm really sorry. Don't ask why, just accept it and let it go. A mother's got to do what a mother's got to do, wouldn't you say?"

Confused, Mint frowned, "What are you saying?"

She shook her head and looked away, "I have to go now. One day you'll know what I'm talking about, but until then, I can't stand by and watch everything fall apart again. We'll meet again, Mint. Until then, take care."

Mint didn't even have time to think, much less react as Mrs. Kuyume ran back to her car and drove off. What in the world was all of that about, and why did she have the feeling there was something more going on and Mrs. Kuyume was willing to tell?

An hour later, Mint found herself walking through the playground of her elementary school, trying to remember bits and pieces of her past, and of the two Vals. There was the swing set where all three of them had so cheerfully played, swining back and forth while laughing like crazy maniacs to see who could swing the highest. Then there was the merry go round, where Valerine and twirled her too fast and she had fallen off. Memories…these were all memories when life was still fun and being a kid was all it mattered in this world.

"There you are," Valerane's quiet voice interrupted her thoughts.

"What are you, stalking me now?" Mint stopped, crossing her arms and smiling as she came to a stop before Valerane.

"Actually, remember the first time we met?"

How could she forget?

"Alan mentioned it would take you forever to find you. It took me no more than five minutes."

"You know me so well," Mint walked off to sit by the bench.

"Where you you?" Valerane asked.

"I went to apologize to Mrs. Kuyume."

He settled down beside her and took her hands, "I told you not to worry about it."

"Yeah, I know," Mint sigh and leaned her head on his shoulder, "But the funny thing was, she apologized to me instead."

"Really?" Valerane grew quiet, "You know, she did that to me yesterday too."

"I guess it's her way of telling us she doesn't want to see our face again," Mint buried her head, "I wished none of this happened."

"Look, here comes Ken," Valerane announced, "I wonder what he wants?"

Mint looked up from where she had buried her face and blinked. Then she shook her head, as if the image before her was a mere dream, and blinked again. Her mouth dropped opened, closed, and then opened again, like she didn't know what to do with it.

"Oh my God," she said instead, as Ken, dressed in nothing but a small white loincloth, carrying a heartshaped box with a dozen roses, and fake wings fluttering behind his back, stopped before her. His face was red, and his eyes looked like they wanted to kill, but the smile plastered on his face was very, very friendly.

"Mint Katsuie?" As if he didn't know her, but Mint could do no more than nodd her head, stuck between laughing her head off and feeling a small measure of pity for him.

"I present to you, a dozen roses and a box of chocolate from your only boyfriend, Valerane Satomiki," he was glaring at Vaerane like he wanted to throttle him, but instead he shoved the items into Mint's hands and continued to stand there.

"Th-t-tha—thank you," Mint started giggling, because already, people were stopping by to stare, and to gape, and whisper. "You—oh my God, you can leave now," Mint shook her head, trying to hold back her laughter.

"He's not done yet," Valerane leaned back, unable to prevent a grin.

"I'm not done yet," Ken muttered, which caused Mint to laugh even more.

After Mint calmed down, because he was supposed to wait until Mint calmed down, Ken took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He was going to get Valerane for this…but he had to get past this moment first. Letting out the air that filled his lungs, Ken put both of his arms to his left, waved them, and shook his waist, or tried to, but it seemed more like his butt was moving, and started singing, "Ohhhhhh, we're finally together at last. Mint, you don't know the hell you put me through," he moved his arms to the right, "I don't know if I'll ever stop worrying, but life won't be boring with you by my side," he raised one arm up and settled the other one on his waist while trying to turn around in a circle, "So before I finish my song, I want to ask you to be my wife, " Ken gave her his back, "So give me an answer, I won't accept a no. So Mint, just say yes, so I can get to slap your aaasssss!" He turned his head around, gave her a wink, and slapped his own butt.

Valerane's mouth dropped.

Mint choked between laughter and wanted to slap his again.

Before Valerane could think and thrash his butt for changing the lyrics on him, Ken ran off, hiding behind the small crowd that had gather to see what an almost naked man was doing.

"What—in—in—the—world w-w-was that?" Mint was still laughing, holding her stomach and while trying to catch her breath.

"He was supposed to say so I can be a happy man, damn him," Valerane muttered, glaring at the only naked back that was quickly disappearing from view.

"Hahahaha," Mint was laughing, she could barely muster a word. She leaned into Valerane, between bursts of laughter and almost dropping the items her loving boyfriend had given her. "Valerane…what…how did…you…" She stopped because the image of Ken slapping his own butt was killing her.

Valerane shook his head and smiled, forgiving Ken since she was still laughing, "It was the big favor he owe me for beating him."

The crowd had dissipate by now, and Mint's laughter had gone down, but every once so often, she would burst out laughing again, and there would be tears in her eyes.

"Are you done now?" Valerane was studying her, waiting for her to stop laughing.

Mint shook her head. "No…I don't think I can…ever stop…l-l-laughing."

"Really?" He raised one brow.

Because she was still giggling, she only nodded her head.

"I believe there is a way to make you stop laughing," he told her.

Before she could question him, his mouth came down on hers.

And her laughing stopped.

And his hands came up to cup both her cheek to prevent her from pulling back in surprise.

Mint didn't pull back, rather she returned his kiss, feeling his lips with her own, studying the contours and the shape, its texture, trying to memorized it—embedd it into her mind.

His arms went down her shoulders and as his tongue slid inside her mouth to play, his hands held her fingers. Mint was so focused on his kiss, that she didn't even notice his fingers had slipped a small gold ring onto her finger until he pulled back from the kiss and from her, until she felt the weight of it on her finger.

Mint glanced at the gold tarnished ring, blushed a little, and pretend to glare at him, "I didn't say yes."

He chuckled, "You did propose first."
She huffed, "Do you have any idea what this ring is?"

He nodded. "If I didn't, I wouldn't have given it to you."

Mint shook her head, "This is a marriage ring, Valerane! You're asking me to marry you, not to be your wife!"

Valerane looked at her strangely, "Isn't that the same thing?"

"No! This ring technically means that I'm you're wife, even though we're not married, and we didn't even have an engagement!"

He nodded slowly, "Yeah. I know. So?"

Mint looked exasperated, "So? So I want a wedding, an engagement, Valerane, you fool!"

He took her hand, pulled her up from the bench and led her away from the playground, "And you'll get one."

"So then where's my engagement ring?" Mint grumbled.

"It's coming," Valerane chuckled at her tone and settled her close to his side, "I just don't want you running off before we're engaged."

"But we're not even engaged!" Mint hit him.

"Ouch," he pulled away. "But we're married."

"Not really," Mint walked on as he stared at her.

"But technically we're married because I got you the marriage ring."

"But we're not engaged, you nimwit!"

"Which is why I'll get you the engagement ring after the wedding," Valerane came up beside her and settled an arm around her shoulder.

"Why are we doing this backwards?" Mint huffed, and she puffed, and she circled his waist with her arm.

"Because I don't want to have to steal you back," Valerane laughed. "I'm declaring to the world you're my wife already."

"When I'm not! Valerane, you can be such a…" Mint and Valerane disappeared behind the corner, their voices floating off into the distant.

It was as the song went. Life with each other would never be boring.