Disclaimer: The names of the transportation app, anime convention and all names of places mentioned are fictional.
The anticipation courses through my body as the driver of my Cloud ride, a local transportation app service, pulls in alongside the curb, ready to let me off. "Thanks." I say, opening the car door and lifting my head towards the bright sun. He smiles at me in his rearview mirror and gives me a small wave. "Have fun! My daughter told me all about it and it seems like a big event." I return his smile and exit the navy blue vehicle. "Only one of the biggest of the year." I respond and grab my Mad Hatter themed backpack. "Have a great day!" With those last words, I close the door and step up onto the sidewalk. A smile forming on my face, I position my backpack on my shoulders and merge into the crowd.
All around me people move towards the main doors of one of the largest buildings in the area: The High Seas Convention Center. Feeling my smile widen, I take a deep breath and gaze at all of the bright colors surrounding me. Everywhere I turn, all sorts of unique clothing items are visible, ranging from videogame and anime cosplay, to homemade Lolita dresses, even people who choose to ignore the southwestern United States summer heat and sport full body Furry costumes. Adjusting the furry pink cat ears atop my head, I feel a wonderful sense of happiness bubble up inside me. I'm back. I'm finally back. My favorite event of the year: Ani-Con, with its cosplayers, panel hosts, vendors, artists and fabulous groups of attendees. This event is one of the only times during the year that I truly feel like myself. I genuinely missed it.
Since I was an elementary school aged kid, I've always known I was a little bit different from my peers. Where other kids enjoyed running around at playgrounds or playing games with each other, I always had my nose stuck in a book or explored nature by myself. I had a difficult time making friends due to a quietness I've had for as long as I can remember and due to this, often used my imagination strengthened by my books to keep myself entertained. All of this changed at the tender age of 10 when I was somehow befriended by another fifth grader who pushed past my quietness and made a large effort to get to know me. During those budding stages of friendship, she introduced me to the world of anime for the very first time.
I clearly remember that cool October night, when she turned on the television in my bedroom and changed it to the channel most known for its anime broadcasts. As the opening theme song to the popular series Inuyasha softly filled our ears, I knew from that moment on that I was hooked. Quickly, I became obsessed with the show, often staying up late into the night watching all of the programs that came on before Inuyasha, including episodes from Full Metal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell and later when it first aired in the United States, Naruto. Before long, I learned how to use a computer and became fascinated with all of the AMV's (anime music videos) that were extremely popular online and shortly after that, discovered the wonderful world of fanfiction where fans just like me wrote fan based stories about their favorite characters and posted chapter after chapter online. As someone who loved reading books, consuming fanfiction stories swiftly became one of my favorite hobbies.
As time went by and the genre became more popular in the United States, I found myself making many friends whom I bonded with over the vast world of anime. However, the same friend who originally introduced me to anime was also the friend who took me to my first anime convention. Back when I first attended our local anime convention, anime conventions in general were up and coming in our area and were something the event organizers were just feeling out. Not many people were familiar with the concept in our area, only that it was similar to comic-cons, and so in the beginning, the events were relatively low scale. I tried my hardest to attend those early years of Ani-Con, but wasn't always able to make it. As time went by, however, and anime's popularity soared, so to did interest in anime conventions. As the years went by our local Ani-Con went from a small group of people who lived locally to something people all over the world traveled to attend. Thanks to my entering adulthood and having much more say over my day to day life, I have been able to attend Ani-Con much more consistently. As a result, I have been at every single one for the last five years in a row. It has become something I heavily prioritize in my life.
"Mya!" I hear my name shouted across the crowd. Several people turn their head, curious, but upon realization that nothing of interest is happening return to their business. Searching the crowd for the person calling to me, I maneuver myself out of the throng and make my way to the side of the building closest to me, careful not to bump into anyone. "Mya!" I hear again, this time much closer and upon a second scan, soon spot the person calling my name. I immediately smile. Rowina. The very person who showed me anime and anime conventions all of those years ago. My absolute best friend of all time.
"Hey!" I shout, waving my hand above my head. She catches up to me, doubles over and wheezes, clearly struggling to catch her breath. After a minute, she stands up straight and gives me a thumbs up. "I was power walking before I saw you, but then when you came out of that car, I knew I'd have to run to catch up. At least my wig stayed in place." She grins and lightly touches the styled, purple wig atop her head. Her natural green eyes brighten and she hugs me. Without another word, we fall into step beside each other and merge back into the crowd.
"Do you know where you want to go?" She asks me, but before I can respond, she continues. "I've got all of my panels picked out already." Shrugging, I shake my head. "I haven't had a chance to look. Could I just stick with you for a while?" She gives me a sidelong glance. "Why do you think I called out to you? But what about Andrew? Are you still going to see him? He finally asked to meet up with you, didn't he?" At the mention of his name, I sign, my spirits dampening. "I haven't heard from him in a few days, not since he originally asked me to meet him. I tried asking him about it, but every time he changes the subject and talks about something else. I don't know why he suddenly asked to meet up with me after a year of refusing to see me just to act like he never asked me in the first place. He's making me feel things I don't want to feel." My shoulders slump as the sadness I felt all of this past week returns. No amount of anticipation I had for Ani-Con can shake it off this time.
Rowina places a hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Mya. I know how much you cared about him even after that girl came into the picture. But let's not think about it now. Let's enjoy our con! We got a hotel down here for two nights so we're leaving our daily drama away for the weekend. Let's go get our anime on!" She grabs my hand and quickens her pace. Weakly smiling at her attempt to make me feel better, I walk faster to match her speed, but at the mention of Andrew I can't help but think about all that has transpired.
We first met at Ani-Con five years ago. I had just graduated high school and was about to start college so I had a bright sense of hope for the future common in young adults making that transition and had what you'd call "a pep to my step". I was eager to make new friends during that convention and both myself and Rowina, who had accompanied me to that years con as well, were quick to start conversations with those around us. While we were in line for coffee at Randa's, nearby café, I felt someone bump into me from behind, the force nearly knocking the glasses off of my face. Startled, I turned around and stared at the tall man responsible.
My very first thought upon seeing his face was that he was one of the most handsome men I've ever seen, but I was too upset at the situation to think more than that. I opened my mouth to admonish him, but before I could utter a sound, he put his hands up in front of him in an apologetic manner. "I'm so sorry." He said in a light Cambodian accent. "I wasn't paying attention when I turned around." He looked me in the eyes and I felt my cheeks heat up. "Are you alright?" At his question, I felt Rowina subtly nudge me in the ribs. Glancing at her knowing grin, I inwardly winced. I knew exactly what she was thinking.
"It's alright." I responded, moving to turn away. He apologized, I wasn't hurt, we were okay. "Hey," He said, suddenly prompting me to turn back around. "I really like your shirt." I glanced down at the cartoon sushi roll figure on my chest. "Thanks." I said, my cheeks heating up further. "What's your name?" He continues and before I knew it, I was having an in depth conversation about anime with one of the cutest men I had ever met. The conversation was going so well that after the three of us bought our coffee, we continued our conversation at a table near the entrance.
I learned from that conversation that his name was Andrew, he was four years older than me and was a first generation Cambodian man. He had been born and raised here in the United States, but his family strongly retained their culture so he often felt he was living a double life. He told us that he was nearly finished with his Bachelor's degree in Cyber Security and was on the look for a full time job in his field once he graduated at the end of the year, but in the meantime he worked almost full time hours for We Fix It Computers, a local business specializing in computer repairs. He also revealed he was an avid video game player and anime watcher, but occasionally set aside time to read horror novels. The conversation seemed to entirely revolve around him and I as Rowina made no effort to put herself in the mix, speaking only when spoken to, her eyes bright as she focused on her knitting project. I knew what she was trying to do.
After a while, the conversation shifted to talks of the convention and it turned out he was planning on attending some of the same panels we had decided to attend that day, prompting us to spend the rest of the day together as he decided to tag along with us.
Once the end of the night for the con came around and it was time to go our separate ways, an unmistakable bond had formed between Andrew and I. We exchanged our phone numbers and from that moment on became good friends. As time went by and we each lived our lives, we both grew and matured. He graduated college and found a good full time entry level job in his field. A few months ago, he moved into his own apartment free of family and roommates, determined to build a stable life for himself. Meanwhile, I finished my Bachelor's degree in English and was a year into my Master's for English with hopes of getting accepted into a PhD program in the same field, with a special focus in Mexican-American studies. I had dreams of becoming a college professor and teaching literature detailing some of the every day experiences I had had throughout my life. Despite these vastly different goals, we always managed to stay in contact with each other. We hung out every month or so and as time went by, it always seemed as if something more might come of our friendship. Our hang outs became more like dates and sometimes we'd find ourselves holding hands or hugging for longer periods of time then what was considered normal for friends. When we attended anime conventions, we spent the entire event together, popping in and out of our respective friend groups, but always staying with each other. Deep down I knew I wanted more between us, but I had never been in a real relationship before and my quietness made it impossible to summon the courage needed to make my feelings known. Somehow I thought that was okay and had assumed things would always remain the same.
I was naïve. At last year's convention, everything changed. Prior to that event, he had grown more emotionally distant towards me. I had just assumed he was focusing more on his job, but at the end of the convention, he took me to Randa's, bought me my favorite drink there and asked me to sit down. He was suddenly very formal and I knew that he was about to explain his recent change in behavior. I remember that encounter as if it had happened yesterday.
“Mya.” He began, looking down at his own coffee. I stared at him in confusion. “Mya, I-” He sighed. “Mya, I won’t be able to see you anymore. I met someone. Her name is Mei. She works for my company and is a huge anime fan and a gamer as well. She also gets me. She’s Japanese-American and understands everything I’ve been struggling with. I really like her. I asked her to be my girlfriend and she said yes. If I continue to see you, she’ll get the wrong idea. I really care about you.” He paused and shook his head, clearly torn. “As a friend.” He almost whispered, now closing his eyes. “I want to stay in contact with you, but I can’t see you anymore. I can’t do anything anymore.” He looked away and I knew he was referring to those shared moments of light intimacy. I felt tears sting my eyes and my heart ache. It felt like a break up when we had never been together in the first place. Before I could say anything, he got up and walked away. I hadn’t seen him since that day.
True to his word, he stayed in contact. Never once did he ask to meet up and never once did I offer, but every single day he messaged me as if constant communication made up for not seeing each other. It was difficult at first to respond to his messages, I was very angry and hurt, but as if understanding my feelings he never gave up and always messaged me a few hours after no response from me. Over time, I accepted our new normal and determined to live my life, often sharing my accomplishments with him as well as my struggles. Especially on my rough days, he was always there to comfort me through messages. It was as if he missed me and wanted to see me, but wouldn’t due to his relationship and constantly messaging was his way of compensating.
Then a few days before this convention was set to happen, we were messaging about a new RPG video game I was playing, a hobby I had gotten into almost immediately after meeting Andrew, when out of nowhere he asked to see me. I took some time to respond, shocked by how sudden it was, but after a couple of hours, agreed and asked for the details. He replied with his stats of the main character of the game. I tried asking again later that day, but he did the same thing. If the message hadn’t of remained in my phone, I’d have thought I’d dreamed it. I found myself becoming angry again and ignored him for the remainder of the night despite him sending more messages regarding the RPG. I ignored him almost the entire following the day as well until I broke in the evening after he sent me a gif of a sad kitten holding a heart. I knew it was his way of apologizing.
“Mya.” Rowina says, snapping me out of my thoughts. I look at her. "Your phone is ringing." She states, a worried look on her face. "I'm fine." I say, smiling and pulling my phone out of my back pocket, but just as my hand touches the device, I freeze. I recognize that tone. It's been a year since I've heard it, but I'd never forget it completely. Pulling the device out, the contact name stares back at me. Andrew. Pressing the green button to answer, I put the call on speaker so Rowina can hear too. "Hello?" I ask, my voice guarded. "Mya?" The sound of his voice sends a pang of sadness through my heart. "Yes?" I steel myself for what he will say next. "I want to see you. But I have something to do before going to the Con and I won't be there until tonight. Can I see you this evening? I know I don't deserve it, I haven't exactly been a model friend, but please give me the chance to explain myself. I want to see you." At his words, my eyes widen.
"I'm here all weekend with Rowina. I can meet up tonight if you want." He sighs in what I think is relief. "Great. I'll see you then. When I get there, I'll call you straight away and we'll have dinner somewhere, my treat." With those last words, he hangs up the phone and just like that, the call is over. I stare at Rowina who stares right back at me. "What... just happened?"
"I think he just asked you out on a date, dude." She pats me sympathetically on the shoulder. "I honestly don't want to think about this right now. I have no idea what he wants and I don't want to get my hopes up or down. Can we just enjoy today? When he calls later, I'll deal with it then." She grabs my hand and pulls me forward. "That's one of the main things I love about you. You don't let men bring you down."
The remainder of the day went by quickly and smoothly. Rowina and I walked all over the convention grounds, visiting the artist alley, dealer's room and attending several of the panels we were both mutually interested in. We took pictures of a lot of the cosplayers around us and ended up meeting several people who liked some of the same fandoms we did. All in all, it was a wonderful day and at times I found myself so distracted I almost completely forgot about that morning's phone call.
"Man, I'm tired." Rowina exclaimed, plopping into a chair right outside the room our last panel was located. "I'm right there with you." I agree and sit down next to her. My feet begin to ache from all of the walking and my arms are hinting at soreness from the weight of carrying my backpack and new purchases. "What are we gonna do about dinner? I’m getting hungry. Has Andrew called?” I frown at her question. It was nearly 7 PM and I still hadn't heard from him. Was he going to stand me up? “Not yet, but even if he does try calling, I’m not sure I want to go. I care about him, Rowina, I’m not afraid to admit that anymore, but I’m not sure I could handle it if he told me something like he did last time. What if he tells me something crazy like he’s marrying her and can’t talk to me at all anymore? I know I should have stopped caring when he first told me about her, I don’t want to be that woman who gets in the way, but I just couldn’t. And now? If he cuts me off even further, I’m not sure how long it will take me to recover.” I sigh. Rowina moves a little closer to me and wraps her arm around my shoulder. “It’s okay, you know.” I glance at her. “To love someone who loves another. Sometimes when it’s on that level, all you care about is their happiness - even if it’s not with you.” I close my eyes at her words, tears forming, and lean my head on her shoulder, my furry pink cat ears brushing against her neck. “Thanks, Rowina.” I whisper, genuinely meaning it. “Let’s go get something to eat, I’m-” But halfway into her sentence, she pauses. “Mya.” She states, prompting me to open my eyes and look up.
The blood instantly drains from my face. Hardly ten feet away from us is Andrew. As soon as we make eye contact, he walks towards us. “Mya?” He asks as if unsure it really is me. “Yo.” I respond, caught completely off guard. “I tried calling, but you didn’t answer.” Huh? My eyes widen at his words and I immediately grab the cell phone tucked away in my backpack. Sure enough, I had three missed calls from him. “But I didn’t hear anything.” I mumble before remembering that I turned my phone on silent at our first panel of the day so as not to disturb the people in there. I got so swept up in the day that I had completely forgotten to turn it back on.
“I’m sorry.” I say and explain what happened. Immediately, relief shows on his face. It’s obvious he thought I changed my mind. “I’m glad I happened to find you then.” He turns to Rowina, but before he can say anything, she crosses her arms over her chest. “Take her somewhere nice. You owe her at least that.” She stands up and winks at me. “See you when I see you.” Before I can even say goodbye, she’s walking away. I shake my head, knowing full well what she means. As long as I let her know I’m okay, she doesn’t care how long I’m out.
“Mya.” Andrew says my name again, sitting down next to me. I slightly shift to the side so there’s more space between us. He notices and sighs. “I guess I deserve that. Mya, we really need to talk. I miss you, but first dinner. I’m taking you to a steakhouse nearby. It's a nice one called Tamara's. Now that I found you, I can call a Cloud.” He stands up and offers me his hand. My heart twists as I stare at it, but pushing my feelings aside, I take it and allow him to lift me up. “Let’s go.” He says, helping me collect my items before pulling out his phone and putting in for the Cloud ride.
An hour later, we’re sitting at a table in Tamara Steakhouse. I voice my shock that he was able to get a reservation in the middle of the event. He said he put in for the reservation a few days ago when he first asked me to meet up and was lucky to find me when he did otherwise we’d have had to go somewhere else.
“What’s this all for?” I asked as the waitress brought us water and said she’d return in a moment to get our drink and food orders. “Before anything, I need you to listen to what I have to say. Then I’ll answer all of your questions. I just want you to hear me out.” I nod slowly and he smiles.
“First off, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I did last Con and how I’ve been this past year.” He takes a deep breath, suddenly nervous. “Mya, I like you. I like you a lot. I realize that now. From the first day I met you five years ago, I liked you. That’s why I made an effort to become friends with you. Your quiet nature, your interests, your determination. You don’t talk much, yes, but that made me want to talk to you even more. I never knew what you were thinking and I always wanted to find out. I wanted to be more then just a friend. As time went on, we grew closer. We shared… moments and sometimes I believed I’d get my wish and there would be more to us, but part of not knowing what you were thinking was exactly that. I never knew what you were thinking or how you felt about the possibility of ‘us’. Were you humoring me? Were you just being nice? We would hold hands, we’d hug for long periods of time, sometimes it even felt like I could kiss you. Yet, you never said a word and I felt trapped.” He pauses to breath and I stare at him, enthralled.
I have no idea what to think, let alone say so I stay quiet. He continues. “Then I met Mei. She was the exact opposite of you. She was so outgoing and always voiced her opinions. I never had to guess what she was thinking because she always told me. Where you were like my moon, she was my sun. She’s Japanese-American and understood what living a double life was like without me ever explaining it to her. She helped me, you know? I quickly developed feelings for her and she reciprocated. She gave me what I wanted.” Just then the waitress returned to get our drink and food order. I’m suddenly no longer hungry. In the span of five minutes, I’ve felt more emotions then I have in months. Happiness that he liked me, sadness about Mei, anger that he blamed me, and guilt for my constant quietness and inability to speak up about my feelings. Despite my mood, I quickly glance at the menu and pick the first medium price item I see, telling the waitress the water is fine for me. Once the order is complete and she walks away, I look back at him, my heart breaking. I knew this was what it was. He’s brought me somewhere nice to end our friendship for good. He’s happy with her and that’s that. I missed my chance.
“It’s okay, Andrew. You don’t need to-” He lifts up his hand. “I’m not finished, Mya.” So I stop and let him continue, determined not to let him see me cry. “Around that time I asked her to be my girlfriend and she said yes. That happened at the end of the last Ani-Con. While I was with you, I had been messaging her all weekend. I tried my best not to show it while I was with you, but I was torn the entire convention. From the very beginning, I had made Mei aware of you and how I cared deeply for you as a friend. Well, one of her conditions for being my girlfriend was to cut you out of my life. I couldn’t do that so suddenly and so we comprised. She agreed that as long as I didn’t see you or talk to you on the phone, I could talk to you through text messages as long as she could see them when she wanted.” Here he sighs. “She was very mistrusting and given the situation, I don’t blame her. Anyway, we spent the entire past year doing this. I’m very glad you didn’t give up on me despite what I was doing, but throughout the year she demanded I show her our messages every time I saw her. I was fine with this, but recently things changed. She didn’t like that we were messaging every day, even though it was only about life stuff and mutual interests. She insisted that I was deleting messages so she wouldn’t see them and that I was texting you more then I was texting her. She believed that despite her love for me, I held you closer to my heart then her.” He pauses again to gauge my reaction, but I just stare at him, still unsure of where this is going or what to say.
“She gave me an ultimatum, Mya. Either I cut you out completely or she walks.” This last part was a whisper. A single tear rolls down my face at his words, memory after memory of the times we spent together surfacing in my mind. The in depth conversations we had over novels read together, the laughs and scares shared from horror movies he introduced me to, even the intense moments experienced from boss fights fought together in our favorite RPG’s. Was it all really over? For good? “I guess this is goodbye.” I whisper, lifting my hand to wipe away my tear before softly placing my hand back on the table. Immediately he grabs it, the warmth seeping into my skin, causing my heart to break further. I don’t want it to end. Yet how can I say that? The words won’t come out.
“Mya.” The seriousness of his voice shocks me. “I let her walk.” Huh? My eyes widen. “That’s what I was doing before coming to the convention. I was telling her goodbye and giving her stuff back. Mya, I like you. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I love you. When she gave me that ultimatum, I knew it was over. I couldn’t do it. The thought of a life without you in it was unbearable. That’s when I realized my feelings. You may have never said anything, but neither did I. You’ve always been quiet and have always had trouble speaking up. I’ve known that about you from the day I met you. But me? What’s my excuse?” He laughs softly.
“I love you.” He murmurs. “I’ve loved you this entire time. I know I don’t deserve it, but will you-” At that moment, the waitress brings us our food. Sensing she was interrupting something, she quickly places it in front of us and walks away. “Can I speak now?” I say, smiling to let him know I’m not upset. He nods, completely ignoring the steak in front of him. “Andrew, I’ve always struggled with being quiet. I don’t know how to be loud like other people or voice my thoughts. I’ve gotten better about it in school and the workplace, but personal relationships? Nope. I also can’t begin to understand the double life you lead as an Asian-American. I’m of Mexican descent, living in the southwest United States. People like me are everywhere here. I can only relate to your plight based on the books I’ve read. That being said.” I look down, afraid to meet his eyes. “This past year was hard. I was confused and hurt, but I knew I cared enough about you to accept you with someone else if it meant we could still be friends. I… love you too.” I say, the last part coming out almost as a squeak. My face grows hot. “But I don’t want you to end things with her on my account. I struggle with emotions. I’m quiet most of the time. People even forget I’m there. I couldn’t give you what you wanted because I didn’t know how to say it. Why leave your vibrant sun for a plain and lumpy hunk of rock like the moon?”
He laughs, startling me. “Because of that, Mya. Because of that. It took her ultimatum for me to realize a sun is too hot. It’s extremely bright and it’ll burn your eyes if you look too long. Get too close to it and you’ll regret it. But a moon? A moon is calming and soothing. It’s peaceful and shines even during the blackest part of the night. It guides those lost in the dark with its soft light. I know it’s cheesy, Mya, but you’re my moon. I know I don’t deserve it, but will you give me a chance to show you everything I’ve been feeling? Will you be mine?”
With his words, the stress, pain and confusion of the past year melts away. While I feel bad that this Mei person lost him, I am grateful for his decision. “Yes, I’ll be yours. But you know something?” He cocks his head to the side. “We’re just like one of those rom com anime’s. It’s cheesy.” I wink at him, quoting his earlier line. “But we’ll call it our Ani-Con Love Story: The Tale of the Sun and Moon.”