Seven Months Later...
Hysteria was taking over the sports hall, in Atlanta, as an official walked to the middle of the tatamis, at the very center of the hall, where everyone could see, with a microphone. He gave a look around, with a Colgate smile, and proudly declared:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Gwinett Center Arena of Atlanta is proud to welcome you to this amazing martial arts night ! For your eyes only, tonight, you will admire exhibitions of karate, kung-fu, savate, tae-kwon-do, sambo, and many more !"
The cheers doubled in intensity. Ten thousand peole cheering all at the same time, that was quite a show in itself.
"Well, I see you are all great tonight ! I hope you won't be disappointed with the show ! Before we begin, I would like to give special thanks. This exceptional event would not have been made possible without the support of the International Federation of Martial Arts !"
On the first-class tribune, high above their heads, a middle-aged man in a tuxedo, the deputy of the Federation, stood up and waved his hand, for people to applaud even more. The referee continued:
"The World Karate Association !"
A second man stood up on the tribune, and the cheers tripled in intensity.
"And, of course, our most devoted patron, our friend, a man I don't need to introduce, the famous billionaire, Mr Bruce Starkweather !"
When Mr Starkweather, a tall, elegant raven-haired man in a black Italian suit with a red shirt, stood up in his turn, the fever was at its climax.
Standing on the area between the bleachers and the fighting area, clad in her white kimono that offered a strange contrast with her pale blue skin, Violet Beauregard was one of the very few people who were not cheering. Too tensed for that. Her fight would begin in a few minutes, and that would be the fight of her life. She walked in circles nervously, sometimes throwing anxious glances at her opponent who was warming up at the other side of the fighting ground. Jessifer King. She had only seen pictures of her before, and now that she saw her for real, she told herself that they did really look alike. Jessy King was taller than her (which was normal considering that she was also older), but they both had strongly built shoulders and they both looked as tough, almost tomboyish, except that Jessy's face was a bit more square, less childish, and her blond hair was done in a short ponytail. Oh, yes, of course. Their main difference was of course the fact that Jessy still had a white skin and blond hair, where Violet had kept that light blue shade. But her unusual color was not disturbing her. Not anymore. She had learned to live with it. Still, Jessy was very pretty, and for Violet it was no wonder why James had fallen in love with her. Where was he, anyway ?
She turned to her mother:
"Hey, Mom ! Where's Jim ?"
Mrs Beauregard looked up at the ceiling, riddled with numerous bridges and catwalks that ran between the heavy lights.
"Must be lurking somewhere over there," she said.
"Why did he go up there ?"
"I think he doesn't want to be seen by Jessifer. You know how he is."
Of course she did. They had been living in the same house for seven months, and therefore she began to know him well. She thought that was sad. He could use this occasion to be reunited with her, and quit his dangerous job. He was still a kid, after all, and that was not a life for a kid ! Or maybe she could do it herself. She could talk to Jessifer and tell her the truth, so that they would be reunited. But, no, she couldn't do that, she knew he wouldn't agree, and even if she did it with the best intentions, it would be like she betrayed him, which she didn't want to. They had lived together for so long, he was like her brother, and you don't betray your brother. Though, now that she thought about it, she remembered that the past few weeks, he had been more distant than usual, and that bugged her sometimes, she didn't know what was happening to him. He wouldn't talk. Maybe that had something to do with a book she once found under his bed, aFrench For Dummies book. She didn't know...
The referee interrupted her in her thoughts when he declared:
"And now, for the first event of this wonderful night ! A real match, ladies and gentlemen, for the Junior National Championship, less than eighteen years old, but don't underestimate them ! On my left, fourteen years old, from Cooper Riverside, California, the one whose lightning kicks granted her the nickname 'Velociraptor', the current Junior National Champion, Jessifer King !"
Violet watched her opponent climb on the tatamis and perform a salto to impress the crowd. Wow ! This girl had a look in her eyes... she looked like the female robot in Terminator 3 ! Violet struggled to stay calm. Of course, Jessy the 'Raptor' was super-strong and all, but Violet was very talented too. And she would show her.
"And on my right, eleven years old, from Atlanta, the very young but very talented contestant, 'Blue Angel' Violet Beauregard !"
That was her turn ! Courageously, she took a deep breath and climbed on the mat. She heard her mother wish her good luck. And James was surely observing, from his hideout. She had waited for this for long. The two girls saluted, and Violet tried to comfort herself by thinking that she had fought much worse foes in the Factory, seven months ago, and this was nothing. Jessifer observed her.
"Nice color," she said as they stood on guard. "Light blue, that's classy."
Oh, okay, so now she was making fun of her ! Violet felt a burst of anger, but contained it. Not now. But once the fight began, she would show no mercy !
The bell rung. Now !
Violet let out a hawk scream and launched her kick like a rocket, but Jessifer side-stepped and dodged with ease. She wasn't fighting back, so Violet continued. High kicks, roundhouse kicks, reversed. She used everything her super-flexibility could do, for she wanted to kick her ass, in the literal sense of the expression. But Jessifer kept dodging with so much ease it was exasperating. And why the Hell wasn't she fighting back ? This ballet went on for a good minute, and Violet was getting really pissed. As it went on, her kicks became larger, stronger but slower, and she stopped anticipating, used as she was to her opponent's odd lack of aggressivity, and rage took over strategy.
Awful mistake. She lost her guard trying to hit. And exactly as the wrong moment, as she was in the middle of a flying kick...
She felt Jessy's foot on her stomach. It caught her in the air and struck like a piston, so strong that it emptied her lungs and threw her a few meters back, where she fell on her side. She had been ejected as if she were struck by a car sent at full speed ! She spent a few seconds lying on her side, struggling to catch her breath. This kick had been so strong she almost wanted to vomit. When the referee came to check, she managed to stand back up and take a few deep sighs to recover. She could continue. But now, the score was one to zero for Jessy.
The referee resumed the fight. This time, Violet tried to change tactics and fainted a kick before throwing a straight punch to the lungs. Jessy saw it coming, she blocked the punch and folded her leg around the tensed arm. Oh, no ! Violet knew what she was up to and quickly raised her free arm to block the high kick, then, as a reflex, grabbed her opponent's foot and performed a rather awkward but still effective judo toss that brought them both down. That wasn't enough. To get the point, there had to be a strike. She tried a punch, but Jessy reversed the grapple at this moment, and a chaotic wrestle ensued for a while, each girl furiously reversing the other's grapple to get the advantage before losing it the second after. That was going to no end.
Finally, Jessifer managed to lay Violet on her back and was about to give her a punch when the blue girl put her two feet on her opponent's stomach and pushed her away, like a horse. This didn't count as a point, but at least it gave her enough time to stand back up. But she was definitely doomed. She was barely back on her feet when Jessifer's reversed kick hit her in the temple, doing to her the same effect as a guillotine. Her vision blurred, less and less aware of anything, Violet collapsed.
She didn't really know how she managed to stand back up, but she did. Jessifer was winning, but the match wasn't over yet. Come on, she told herself, you beat a one-ton ogre a few months ago, she should be no match for you !
Confident words she was telling herself, but that kind of failed to make her confident. She was losing zero to two, and all her body and mind were going numb from the hit she had received. She wasn't into the match. But how could she guess Jessifer would be that tough ? No kidding, her kicks felt like her legs were made of concrete !
She stood on guard. Her sight was so blurred her opponent was just a vague form into a kimono. The referee's voice seemed to be coming from very far away when he asked her if she wanted to continue, and it took her an effort to nod. God, how could she hope to win if she could barely move ? She would need a miracle...
Gathering her strength, Violet moved on and tried to grab her opponent. Jessifer merely pushed her away without effort, and Violet tripped back to the limit of the tatamis, where she managed to stand on balance by beating the air like an insane bird. That was tight ! If she fell from the tatamis, she would be disqualified. Standing firmly on her feet, she prepared to go back to the fight, when the tragedy occurred. She never saw it coming. Jessifer had swiftly rolled over to the blue girl, and now she jumped in a front kick !
It hurt. Really, it did. When the ball of Jessifer's foot kissed Violet's chin, it first felt like she had been struck by a sledgehammer. Then, it was like a firecracker banged into her brain, and the only thing that prevented her from drowning into unconsciousness was the sharp pain that radiated in her mouth, along with the salty taste of blood, when she bit her own tongue. Her feet were leaving the floor. She was falling back. It felt almost like flying, especially as her mind was somewhat flying away from her numb body. She finally passed out when she landed in the second row of bleachers.
Violet stuck out her tongue in front of the mirror, in the bathroom. It was not as bad as she had feared. She thought she had bit out a part of her tongue, but there was only a small wound, that still kept leaking blood. Red blood, she thought with a certain pleasure. She liked to think that finally, the 'blue curse' had only touched the superficial layers of skin and she was still normal inside. However, her chin hurt like Hell ! At least, if she had a bruise, nobody would notice. Still, that was one kick from Hell. She was told she had remained unconscious for nearly a minute. That was the first time she was knocked out. That was the first time she lost a match. And you know what ? She didn't care so much, actually.
The girl washed herself and went back to the locker room. Jessifer had just finished her shower and was changing. There were only the two of them. Outside, in the arena, everyone was still enjoying the show. A heavy, awkward silence settled between the two girls, which Jessy decided to break:
"Hey... how'ya doing ?"
"Not too bad," Violet mumbled as she sat down beside her.
"I hope I didn't hurt you. I'm sorry, when I'm into a match, I can't control myself, and sometimes I kick way too hard. I was really scared when I saw you fall back in the bleachers, I thought you had broken bones !"
"No, that's okay... I'm super-flexible, my bones can't be broken. I just lost this time, that's all... still, you didn't need to insult me."
"That comment about my blue skin. I know I look weird, and it's quite hard to live with it."
"Oh, I'm sorry you took it as an insult, cause I wasn't teasing you. I really meant what I said."
"So you don't find it... weird ?"
"It's unusual, sure, but it's pretty cool. I think it suits you great."
Violet sniggered. "When I came back home with this blue skin, it took everyone at least two months to get used to it. It's incredible you're not shocked at all."
"I've seen much weirder than that before..."
She had said that with an indifferent tone tainted with a slight... regret ? Violet could easily guess who she was talking about, and when Jessy stood up to put on her t-shirt, she had a glimpse on her necklace, a golden locket that was the exact copy of the one Jim was always wearing. She was talking about him, the weird guy, the snake-man, the creep... and Violet felt in the tone of her voice that Jessy missed him greatly.
"Jessy ?" she called.
"Jessy, your boyfriend - you remember, James - is here, he's the one who helped us out when we were inside the Factory, seven months ago, and he's been living in my house since then. I thought you would want to meet him again."
But that's not what she said. Instead, she hesitated for a moment, to finally say: "I was thinking, if you're still in town tomorrow, we might go and have a drink or something ?"
"Sounds nice, but I go home tomorrow morning. Wait..."
The blond girl took a piece of paper and a pen from her jacket and wrote her phone number before giving it to Violet.
"Here, if you happen to pass by California, someday, just give me a call."
"Well, yeah, I lost... pretty impressive match, though. Oh, whatever... it would've made me mad to lose, a few months ago, but now I don't give it a damn. There's more in life than karate. What about you ? Oh, really ? No kidding... why, sure, I'd love to try it when it's finished ! I was also thinking it would make a good plot... yeah... okay, I'll tell them. Bye, Mike."
Violet hung up.
"Mike says hi," she said loudly, to make sure her mom and James could hear her from the kitchen. The 'little champion' - mom liked to call her this way, even if she actually lost - was resting on the couch, in the living room. She was still exhausted from the match, an hour earlier, and starving, and the delicate smell of Spaghetti alla Bolognese that was came from the kitchen was making her salivate.
"How is he ?" James asked as he came to sit beside her. Since he lived with them, he had taken back his human appearance, meaning he would wear his contacts and fake eyebrows, and he didn't slick his hair back anymore. Very little details, actually, but these were enough to make him look drastically different from the Snake who was in the Factory with her. Sometimes, Violet would even wonder if they were actually the same boys.
"He's fine. You'll never believe it: he found a 3D generator and a bunch of other programs for his computer, and now he's working on a video game based on the Chocolate Factory !"
"Really, I swear ! He said it's gonna be like a mix of Resident Evil and Metal Gear. He already has to go to Paris in a few days to meet Quantic Dream developers. Must be fun."
"I don't know, it just doesn't sound right to go back to what happened in there..."
"Well, we won, after all. If we go back to what happened through a game, we can see it in a more positive way, for, you know, we just pretend."
"I guess so..."
His reaction didn't surprise the girl at all. On the contrary, it was typical of him. He had been living with them for seven months, and she never ever remembered having seen him once being utterly optimistic. Even simply making him smile was an exploit in itself.
He had officially been introduced as Violet's European cousin, James Bernstein, when they came back from England. His mission was to support Violet as she struggled to retrieve a normal life, and also to teach her to master her super-flexibility, since he knew quite a lot about this. The first few weeks had been very difficult. Not to introduce James, on the contrary, everyone had bought the story without asking questions. No, the most difficult had been to turn things back to normal. First, of course, the aftermaths of the Factory incident: for three weeks she was afraid of sleeping, for her nights were constantly haunted by gruesome dreams of whining zombie children and giant carnivore plants and raping trees. James, who already didn't sleep much, had turned insomniac and would spend his nights chain smoking in the living room. Gladly, this traumatism progressively faded, but there were other problems to mind. There the journalists who kept harassing them, trying to interview Violet about her misadventures in the Factory to make it a first-page story in their tabloids. They would show up anytime, impredictible, they would stalk her when she went to school, and sometimes there were even photographers trying to sneak inside the house by night. In the end, Mrs Beauregard had filed a lawsuit against them, and won in a Pyrrhic victory.
Then, there was the school. Most of the adults knew what had actually happened to her, and they tried to be understanding towards her, but they did just too much and instead of being understanding, they had become overprotective and would favor her at any given occasion, which of course didn't appeal to the sympathy of her classmates. She was already not very popular before, because of her brutal tendencies, here they had found a weakness and they had used it shamelessly, teaming up against her and calling her Smurf. At that time, she would frequently come home from school crying, to lock herself up in her room and refuse to eat. James had managed to cheer her up by working out with her and teaching her some of his 'snake-fu' moves, and when she came in full control of her flexible body, she went back into karate. Eventually, it took a while but Violet managed to show her classmates how much she had changed and get along with most of them. She became a great friend, and her tomboyish attitude made her popular among both girls and boys. Her blue skin was little by little accepted and was now considered as a cute quirk. However, in the beginning there were some kids, some brutes, who went too far and, aside from taunting, would beat her and throw her stones. This was the main reason why she had almost fallen into depression, and though they wanted to avoid this, she and James had found only one solution for these violent kids: they had gathered them all in an abandoned garage and beat them all up Double Dragon-style, in a festival of dust biting and nosebleeding. Not very subtle, for sure, but at least, nobody would dare assault her anymore. That is how she was here now, blue-skinned but happy, back in her normal, secure and comfortable life.
She and James were like siblings. They would spend almost all of their time together, except when she was at school or hanging out with her friends. She had no clue of what he did with his time when she wasn't with him, but according to her mom, he liked to "go out for a walk". She didn't know if there was a link, but since he's been living here, there were frequent troubles with gangs from East Atlanta, and three drug dealers and one pimp were found dead by poisoning. Other than that, they were perfectly going along, never growing tired of each others as they would challenge each others in furious video game battles, work out, hang out, or simply have sleepless nights in the room they shared - Violet had strongly insisted for them to share the bedroom - chatting to no end and playing silly games. But there was no romance in their relationship. They were not interested. James had only had a crush on her because she reminded him of Jessifer, and Violet wasn't officially dating Mike, but their long and somewhat awkward conversations on the phone or the internet left little doubt that both of them wanted, but none of them dared to do the first step.
While Mike was developping his video game and frequently getting into trouble with the authorities because of his passion for computers - he was supposedly being currently wanted by the French secret services for hacking into their database - the other kids had recovered well from their misadventures. Augustus was trying to break into professional wrestling. Charlie and his family had taken over the Factory and done the titanesque exploit to clean it up completely, getting rid of all the monsters, all the nasty little experiments, all the dangerous and scary stuff, everything. If you go to England someday, make sure you stop by to visit the Charlie Bucket Chocolate Factory, I've heard it's become a real candy paradise, now. This wouldn't have been made possible without the help of the rescued children from Basement 13, whom most of them, having nowhere to go, had been adopted by the Buckets and were working at the Factory while receiving an education. Oksana was one of them. She worked as a candy taster, the dreamed job of all the children in the world ! Of course, Mr Salt's financial support had been a considerable help, too. As for Veruca, the spoiled brat had recovered too, though it had taken her more time, but she wasn't a spoiled brat anymore. Far from that. More, she had enrolled in child help associations to share her experience, and was interested in psychology. She and Charlie were dating, and the Buckets often freaked out when she talked about marriage.
Everything was going alright for the gang. And meanwhile, they were eating spaghettis at the Beauregards'. The dinner began silently. Mrs Beauregard attempted several times to start a conversation, but to no avail. There was an uneasy atmosphere between the two kids, and she didn't quite like that. Finally, Violet spoke:
"James ? You know, I talked to Jessifer, tonight."
He didn't answer. She continued: "You could have talked to her too. Why didn't you do it ? Why did you go to hide ?"
"I told you this story a million times, Vi. You know the problem."
"It's been two years, Jim. You were twelve at this time, now you're fourteen. You've grown up. I'm sure she is ready to forgive you, if she hasn't already."
"Vi, it's not as if I cheated on her or what. I told her lies, and I used these lies to kill people. How can she forgive me ? How the Hell could anyone forgive me ? No, I've gone way too far. I can't go back home and pretend that nothing happened. That's my curse, I have to live with it."
"Stop saying that, you know that's wrong. You've been living here like a normal person for months, after all !"
"I have. And I will always be thankful to you for giving me this chance." He grew somber. "But that cannot last forever. The Snake is calling again..."
Violet was afraid. She knew what he was about to say, she guessed it right away. Why he had been oddly distant for the past weeks, what this book under his bed meant... that was so obvious. He took a deep breath and said the words she dreaded:
"A few weeks ago, I was offered a contract. Taking down some terrorists in Paris, France. I didn't want to take it right now, I wanted to wait... Vi, I wanted to wait until you were ready. Tonight, at the match, you were amazing. You're back to your good old days, Vi. You are self-confident and strong. My mission is complete. You don't need me anymore."
The girl's eyes were itching, and then tears rolled down her cheeks. "No..."
"I'm going there as soon as possible."
He looked at Mrs Beauregard. She was silent and her eyes were going uneasily from her daughter to Jim.
"It means, tomorrow," he finished.
She said nothing, she just nodded in silence. She knew this day would come, after all. Violet kept weeping and absent-mindedly playing with her pastas. They didn't look so appetizing anymore.
The next morning looked terribly bleak. Violet had cried half of the night on Jim's shoulder and finally fallen asleep against him. This morning, she wasn't really sad anymore, but everything looked gray and dull. The sunny weather looked gray to her. The breakfast, pancakes with maple syrup, was tasteless, and she felt like she wasn't waking up, she had no energy anymore. Part of it came of course from the fatigue due to the match, but not only. She was numb and unmotivated. It was about eleven, now. In a near-lethargic state, she had spent the whole morning watching James pack his stuff. His bike, a bright red Harley-Davidson which he had actually stolen two years ago, had been taken out of the garage, and now Jim was outside, tying his bags on the back of the vehicle.
When he was done, he came back inside. He was dressed in casual clothing, apart from his cow-boy boots and a brown leather jacket, lined with fur, a jacket for long-distance travelers, with an angel painted on the back. This was a gift from Mrs Beauregard, for his birthday.
"Well," he said softly, "looks like I'm ready to go."
"When is your flight ?" Mrs Beauregard asked absent-mindedly.
"Half past noon. Just the time to get to the airport and eat something."
"You don't want us to take you to the airport ?"
"I... I don't think it's a good idea."
The boy came to Violet and gingerly stroked her hair.
"Vi... before I go, I want you to know this: the few months I've spent with you have been wonderful. It felt good to have a family again, and to become a normal boy again, even if it wasn't meant to last. But we all knew it would end someday. I'll never thank you enough for being such a great friend to me. Good bye, sister."
The girl turned her head to look at him in the eyes. "You promise me something before you go ?"
"Call her. Or write her a letter. Anything. But let her know you're still alive, and you're still thinking of her."
He didn't feel like disappointing her. Not now.
"I will," he said.
In return, she gave him a bear hug.
"Good bye, Jim. If you pass by someday, don't hesitate and come."
After a few more minutes wishing good bye to Mrs Beauregard, James went out of the house, to the sidewalk, and he climbed on his bike. Turned on the engine. Put on his aviator sunglasses. He hated farewells. They scared him, because everytime one occurred, he felt it affected him less and less, and he didn't know if it was simply his human side getting used to it, or his snake side trying to shut down his emotions. If he gave it too much thought, he would go mad. He had to go now, or he never would. Without looking behind, he rode his bike to the road, and on the way to the airport. He disappeared from the Beauregards' sight, as they were watching him go through the window. Mrs Beauregard held her daughter close and gave her a soft kiss on the head.
"Guess we're gonna feel strangely lonely for a few days," she said.
"Yeah," Violet sighed, without shedding a tear. "But we'll get used to it. He did, after all."
Noon. His flight would take off soon, James thought as, sitting in the crowded and noisy MacDonald's of the airport, he was finishing his hamburger. He had had to wait until it got cold before he could eat it. He couldn't stand hot food. He chewed slowly, and swallowed without enthusiasm. Took the last sip of his Sprite. Then he stood up, and mechanically gathered the junk on his tray and went to discard it.
He was about to leave when someone - one of the numerous people queueing in front of the counter - bumped into him from behind.
"Sorry," the girl said.
He turned round, and immediately told himself he shouldn't have. For he knew this voice. And now he had her right in front of him. He had left her in a lousy night-club in California, and here, two years later, he met her again, standing in the queue of a MacDonald's counter in Atlanta airport. She hadn't lost anything of the subtle, tomboyish beauty that had seduced him so much. She was only a few inches taller, her hair was longer and in a ponytail, and she had a more womanly silhouette. And she was looking at him with her wide clear blue eyes. Jessifer King. She was accompanied with a cute brunette of shorter size. He knew this girl too, Angel Roddecker, she was Jessy's best friend since kindergarten. They both looked at him, making him uneasy. The eye contact had maybe lasted a second or two, but it seemed like an hour. He bowed as if to apologize for the bump, and walked out of the restaurant without waiting. They had not recognized him, he was sure of this. Last time they saw him, he had short hair, and he had blue eyes, and his face was a little wider, more childish. Now, he was a little taller, he had neck-long straight hair, green contacts, and a narrow face. No, they couldn't have recognized him.
"Wait !" Jessifer shouted as she rushed out of the restaurant and into the overcrowded main hall of the airport. She gave desperate looks around, but the mysterious biker boy she had bumped into was nowhere in sight. Where had he gone ?
"J... Jim ?" she called shyly. "Jim ? Where are you ?" her phrase ended in a whisper. Maybe she had just dreamt this scene. Angel came out and rejoined her.
"Jessy ? What's going on, Jess ?"
"Angie... you saw him too, didn't you ?"
"Saw who ? You're sure you're okay ?"
"Yes... I guess so. I'm coming in a minute."
The young girl watched Angel go back into the restaurant before looking back at the hall. He had plainly disappeared.
"James," she whispered. "I wish you well in Hell..."
She turned back and walked into the restaurant.
I... wow ! I've been dreaming of this moment for a year and a half, and I never thought it would come. Historical moment here, and as Belle07 said, we can open the champaign, now: the story is finished. I must be honest, I never thought it would end up this way. I began this story one boring Sunday afternoon, when the bizarre idea of what would happen if my character, Snake, made an appearance into the Chocolate Factory, putting an horror twist to the tale we all know and love. Tonight, one year and a half later, I have just finished the longest, freakiest and most intense story I have ever written. When I read some older chapters again, I sometimes think it was too intense, mostly in terms of descriptions and endless monologues about the characters' states of mind. And sometimes, I just wonder where the Hell I got such ideas as weird as the raping tree, the bad trips, or the long and gloomy (really, it gives me goosebumps when I read it again) torture scene in the surgery. I think the story took control of me and I couldn't stop the flow of ideas. I guess the same things happen to everyone who tries to write.
But in the end, I am proud of it. I would like to give special thanks to my reviewers, Belle07, Miz-Nu-Booty, Karra Venus Leo, and all the others, for appreciating the story and sharing this experience with me. Booty, well I'm not interested in publishing for now, besides, you can't publish a fanfiction. Lol. Just kidding, if you know someone who can draw (I couldn't draw for my life), maybe I would do comic-books. I won't stop writing, though, writing is a pleasure and the only way I found to control my imagination that would make me crazy if I let it unleashed. I have my other fanfiction, and my original stories I'm beginning to post on the other site. Maybe I'll see you round.
To finish, I want to dedicate this story to a very special person, whose friendship has always been a source of inspiration throughout this difficult time. I think I'm getting a little too emotional, here, so I'll just say this: