The Phoenix's Tail

Story by Simon Nguyen
Ken first met Emily in his homeroom class. Whether it was fate or chance, they had been classmates since. Incidentally, Ken's assigned seat was always behind Emily's, allowing him a good view of the most beautiful girl in school. Despite being in the same class for many years, Ken never once had a conversation with Emily that lasted more than a minute. There was a reason for it.

Emily came from a prominent family. Her father was a high-ranking elected official, while her mother was one of only five female surgeons in the country. Academically, she had always been at the top of her class. Additionally, Emily's elegant beauty won her many admirers. Because of her impressive background or perhaps her aloof personality, none of her admirers found the courage to confess their feelings to her or even approach her. They were afraid of being rejected by her. They were afraid of being called "a crow wanting to befriend a phoenix." Consequently, Emily always seemed to be alone. One could conjecture that she had never had a single close friend.

Ken was one of Emily's admirers. Unlike his long-time crush, he was just an ordinary schoolboy. His father was a salaryman and his mother was a housewife. He loved to hang out with friends and enjoyed athletic activities. His grades were only average. Like the other admirers, Ken had yet to confess his feelings to Emily. It was not because he was afraid of becoming a laughing stock at school. It was because he wanted to protect his deep feelings for her, from the cruel reality.

As time passed, the list of Emily's admirers gradually dwindled. Some already moved on; others had simply given up. Ken was probably the only one who still held romantic feelings for Emily. Everyone at school knew that he loved her, and they were silently rooting for the two to become a couple. The only person who was oblivious of Ken's love seemed to be Emily, to the amazement of the entire school. Is she really the heartless "Ice Queen" just like in the rumors? This was a hot topic at school for several years.

In the summer before their final year of high school, Ken had finally made up his mind. He will approach Emily on the first day of class and confess his feelings to her. Even if she rejected him, he will have no regrets. Knowing how much she adored the Poinciana*, he brought with him a bagful of the beautiful blossoms.

Emily did not show up for the first day of class. Ken was stunned by her absence. In all the years he had known her, she had never missed her first day of class. Did something happen to her? He was really worried about her.

The school was notified that Emily will no longer attend the academy, with no specific reason given. Rumors were circulating that she was skipping her senior year to marry the son of a wealthy tycoon. Some were speculating that she had gone abroad to study. Whatever the case, Ken was devastated by Emily's abrupt departure. He blamed himself for not confessing to her sooner. His heart died a little that time.

The sad winter melody finally gave way to a lively spring. For high school seniors, this was a time of transition. Some were planning the next phase in their lives, while others were simply relishing the moment. Even as graduation grew near, Ken still had not gotten over Emily's departure. Unlike his peers, his final year of high school was one of sadness rather than of celebration. Once an active and outgoing boy, Ken had transformed into somewhat of a home boy. He rarely ventured outside of his home for anything other than school, to the dismay of his buddies.

May be it was the lack of distractions or perhaps it was a futile attempt to bury his sadness, Ken's academic performance improved dramatically in his senior year. He ranked in the top five of his class, which was enough to earn him a place at a top university. He couldn't care less about it, however. He would trade everything to see Emily again.

The final day of school finally came. While Ken was cleaning out his locker, he discovered an unopened letter. The letter was addressed to him from Emily. The surprise discovery overwhelmed him with emotions. When and how did this letter get here? Ken's confused mind was searching for answers. Could it be that Emily had noticed my feelings for her and sent me a rejection letter? He was afraid to read what was in the letter.

Ken found himself making a mad sprint out of the school building. He kept running until his legs gave out. He stopped at a Poinciana tree and rested under its shade. The feelings he had suppressed for nine years were finally unleashed. Tears were flowing from his eyes without ceasing. A passing breeze helped soothe his sorrows, and the majestic Poinciana blossoms carried him into a beautiful dream. "I wish I could see Emily again!"

Fifteen years later, Ken was now an internationally acclaimed architect with projects all over the world. Unlike his peers, he chose to stay in his hometown and base his career here. Ken remained single, as work had taken priority in his life. Today will be a special day for him. After a meeting with a client, he will take a flight to Tokyo to receive a major architecture award for his signature skyscraper design.

The meeting with the client went smoothly and ended a bit earlier than scheduled. With a little more than an hour to go before his flight, Ken decided to visit a nearby coffee shop for a quick sip of his favorite cappuccino. As he was walking to the coffee shop, he caught sight of an elegant lady leaving the shop. Something about this woman was very familiar to him. Curious, Ken decided to follow her. The closer he was to her the faster his heart was racing. An old feeling rekindled. Could she be the love he lost many years ago?   

The woman got into a taxi and drove off. Ken also got into a taxi and continued his pursuit. His phone was ringing nonstop all this time with messages from his secretary about his pending flight. But he simply ignored them. He had lost the love of his life once; he won't lose her again. Ken followed the lady for a long time until she stopped at a cemetery. When his taxi reached the cemetery, the woman had already gone inside several minutes before. Ken went in to look for her, but she was nowhere to be found.

After searching futilely for nearly an hour, Ken decided to take a little break on a stone bench. As he was resting, his eyes were accidentally affixed on two nearby gravestones. There were a half dozen Poinciana flowers on each gravestone. Apparently, the two graves were the final resting places of a husband and wife. They died on the same day, exactly a week before the start of Ken's high school senior year.

That woman was really Emily after all. She left the academy because of her parents' deaths and not because of him. The mystery Ken had wrestled with all these years was finally solved. Ken decided to cancel his flight and hastily returned home. He brought out the letter he had kept unopened for fifteen years and began to read it.

Ken,

I am not oblivious of your feelings. All these years, I have silently observed you and have come to envy the life that you have. You have always been surrounded by good friends. You are free to do what you want, without burdens. I am, on the other hand, eternally confined in the world of expectations and loneliness. I want to be like you - cheerful and carefree.

I don't really know when my admiration for you has turned into love. It was likely because of your persistence. When others had given up on me, you continued to stand by me lovingly. I could feel your warmth and the pureness of your love, even from a distance. They are something I will always treasure in my heart.

I had planned to confess my feelings to you on the first day of our high school senior year. Fate, however, has decided to not allow us to be together. When you read this letter, I would have already gone to a place far away. This is our farewell.

Emily

As Ken was reading the letter, tears were flowing from his eyes without ceasing. But unlike the sorrowful tears under the Poinciana tree fifteen years ago, these were the tears of joys.

Ken was driving home from a business trip one day, when nostalgia led him back to his old high school. This was his first return visit since graduation. The school had not changed much from fifteen years ago. The sight of students in uniform brought back memories, and the Poinciana flowers were still as lovely as ever.

His stroll down memory lane was interrupted by the appearance of a familiar sight. Standing in front of him was Emily - a teacher at the academy. The two stood motionlessly for some time, unable to express their feelings. Emily and Ken decided to take a walk together afterwards, catching up on their lost time.

*Poinciana is a flower that shapes like a phoenix's tail.

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