As Camille Hyacinthe Halcyon lay in the wreck of her SUV, she thought of how perfectly her life had gone.
One of two girls born into aristocracy, her upbringing had been strict, though strict didn’t necessarily mean unhappy. In fact, it was quite the contrary; she and her sister always looked back on their childhood with smiles and faraway looks in their eyes. Their schedules had always been packed; for Millie, it was piano and art lessons, as her parents wanted her to be different from her sister, Vivian, who was already a skilled flutist and violinist at the age of six.
However, Millie hadn’t always been the model student her parents wished for her to be. At age seven, she was sent home almost every week, as she’d become a hindrance to her teachers. Vivi, who at age eleven was the top student in her grade, would glare disapprovingly at Millie whenever their mother was called to the school to discuss Millie’s behaviour. So at age eight-and-three-quarters, after much nagging from Millie’s teachers and several visits to the doctor who referred Mr and Mrs Halcyon to a child psychologist, Millie was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and told that her IQ neared that of Einstein.
Her diagnosis was never an impediment to her education, though, as she was moved up a year in school (on the condition that she’d complete her grade four curriculum at home), and at age ten, she and her mother relocated to New York so Millie could pursue music and art with other artistically gifted students. Vivi and their father stayed behind in Vancouver, and despite being apart from her mother for the most part, she never resented her little sister for this change.
At age thirteen, Millie became one of the younger players to grace Carnegie Hall, and her family watched with wide smiles as their little girl hit a milestone that many young musicians had yet to do. That same year, two of her paintings were displayed in a temporary exhibit at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (years later, she hung them in her children’s bedroom: the map over Dari’s bed and the fox over Ren’s). Though this marked the point where she started overshadowing Vivi, family life continued on as usual, except from then on, during the holidays, the family mansion was always filled with prominent figures vying for the attention of the child prodigy and her parents.
Despite the reputation she’d created for her family, Millie wanted to rebel. She didn’t know what for, but she knew that there was more to life than being a figurehead for her family, and besides, she’d never felt completely comfortable in the elegant, demure image her mother put her in. So at sixteen, she folded up her dresses and concert gowns and cut her fiery red hair to her chin (it was a shame; everyone had always admired her dark red curls) and took every opportunity to disobey her mother’s words. The little household of two in that pristine New York penthouse was filled with screams and threats, but when silence fell upon them in their sleep, both still knew that they loved each other no matter what happened.
When her school years neared their end, Millie and her mother reconciled, though there was really nothing to reconcile over in the first place. It was just her rebellious phase, after all, and Mrs Halcyon knew better than to assume that the sassy girl who once made teachers cry would ever let go of that defiant streak. Coincidentally, the day that the word “sorry” was exchanged several hundred times was Millie’s seventeenth birthday and the day of her Juilliard piano audition, and the newly-turned-seventeen-year-old walked into the audition room in a tuxedo with frayed nerves and high spirits. The judges thought she played beautifully, and as she left the room with a smile on her face, mother and daughter embraced in a moment of pride and a few tears were shed at the realization that Millie had grown up.
The letter came two weeks later. Anticipation had filled Millie with anxiety, and unable to touch her piano without panicking, she painted with a fervor she was unfamiliar with, filling her room with slashed canvases and scrapped paintings. By the time she’d gotten her mother’s gold letter opener, her delicate hands were shaking so much her mother opened her letter for her. Her worries were unfounded, however, as the words on the paper confirmed what everyone else predicted: she’d gotten in.
Skip four years, and Millie was graduating with new friends and a new nickname: Mozart. At age twenty-one, she was top of her class, and despite her awkwardness in social situations, her friend circle was large and tight-knit. They nominated her as that year’s valedictorian, and per the things she’d been taught since she could understand words, she gave her speech with grace and poise in front of a large audience that was missing her father, who’d passed away from heart failure just nine months earlier. Less than twenty-four hours later, she was completely packed and on a plane to visit her sister, who was studying for a doctorate in Ancient Greek history. Two nights before Millie’s graduation, Vivi had been crying on the phone about a Japanese student who’d broken up with her, and so Millie thought spending the summer with her sister in England might be a good way to cheer her up.
The two were elated to see each other, and Vivi’s heartache was gone within a week. However, in less than a month, tables had turned and the two sisters fought with each other like never before, for Millie was the new girlfriend of the man who’d broken her sister’s heart. Tensions ran high between the two Halcyon girls, and every passing moment they spent together was in uncomfortable silence with minimal words spoken. Deep down, Vivi knew that she was being too hard on her sister, but she’d reached her breaking point and the animosity continued.
Filled with dejection, Millie left England at the end of the summer to return to New York, promising Hayao to stay in touch while he continued working on his medical degree. It would be one more year before the two could be together again, so they exchanged Skype usernames, emails, and phone numbers. She returned to New York and started playing at her own concerts and writing music. Busy as she was, she always made time for Hayao, who she loved as much as ever, and the bitterness between her and her sister remained if it hadn’t grown. At the end of the year, she returned to Britain to celebrate with Hayao and congratulate him on finishing school (she’d gone to Vivi’s house to congratulate her on her doctorate, but Vivi hadn’t welcomed Millie’s presence). At the little celebration Hayao’s parents held, he proposed to her with his mother’s old diamond ring, and the planning for a wedding immediately began.
A year later, the wedding was held at a shrine in Tokyo, though the happy occasion was tainted with grief, for Mrs Halcyon never made it, having died of a stroke the month before while staying in Vancouver. The mother Millie had always known and loved was suddenly gone, and it would be a lie to say that her eyes were dry after the funeral. However, there was a silver lining: at a small Vancouver church, crying over the loss of their mother, the sisters had reconciled and let go of their grudge. Vivi was present at the wedding, proud of her little sister, who was married now, at age twenty-four, to a man they both knew and trusted.
Millie and Hayao moved into a luxurious apartment in Ginza, and they found new jobs at the University of Tokyo. Hayao was now a sought-after neurosurgeon at the university’s hospital, and Millie was gladly accepted as a music professor there (it wasn’t a surprise to many that she spoke fluent Japanese; she’d always been proficient at learning languages).
A year into their marriage, at age twenty-five, Millie realized she was pregnant with her first child after two months of nausea and fatigue. She was terrified, he was elated, and they both held their breath as their dream of a family of four came alive. Nine months later, at age twenty-six, she spent eleven hours in the worst pain of her life, and was handed a beautiful baby boy with her red hair and turquoise eyes, much to Hayao’s disappointment (though it was overshadowed by joy). She laughed, and in her pain medicine-induced stupor, promised that their next child would look much more like him. He named the boy Akira, befitting his radiant looks and personality, and she named him Darius Xavier, after the famous Persian king and Xavier Halcyon, Millie’s late grandfather.
A little over a year later, Dari, as they now called him, spoke his first word a year earlier than his parents had anticipated. He’d just turned one in June, and as they were filming him eating a peach slice, he turned to them and said, “Oishi!” The young couple laughed for several minutes before they turned off the recording, and he repeated the word several more times to Millie’s amusement–she remembered her mother telling her about how, as a child, she’d spoken at one-and-a-half and wouldn’t stop repeating the word “kitty” for a whole week.
At age twenty-eight, she began redoing Dari’s room, now anticipating a little girl. Hayao helped her set up the crib they’d put away in storage after they’d gotten Dari his own bed with the gold foil map painting hanging above it, and above their daughter’s crib, they hung a picture of a fox. Eight months later, she left the hospital with a surprisingly-healthy-for-a-one-month-premature girl. Woozy from the anesthesia the doctor had administered on her before her c-section, she’d mixed up the order of her daughter’s given names. But she didn’t regret it, so her name was now Rena Alexandra, after Millie’s late grandmother and Alexander the Great, the rival of Dari’s namesake. Hayao had named her Ren, meaning “lotus”, a perfect name for such a calm, quiet baby. Strangely, Millie’s promise that she’d made nearly three years earlier had come true; the little girl was a carbon copy of her father, from her raven hair down to her dimples. The only thing reminiscent of her mother was her eyes: wide, glossy orbs, one of them velvety forest green and the other brown as polished oak.
At four, toddling into her kindergarten class with a Hello Kitty lunch kit filled with panda-shaped rice balls, Ren had yet to speak a word. Millie was getting worried, and Hayao’s worst fears were confirmed when their pediatrician diagnosed their daughter with autism spectrum disorder. Millie, however, wasn’t fazed and seemed to be able to read her daughter’s mind and coax her out of her shell. Within a week of the diagnosis, Ren was babbling away and was rapidly developing the affinity for drawing and playing flute and piano she’d had since two years ago. Life in their family was perfect, and Millie and Hayao knew that their kids were going places. At this point, Dari had been skating for four-and-a-half years, and at the rate he was progressing, he was going to be an Olympic champion one day. As for Ren, she was turning out to be quite the artist, and it was now common knowledge that she was going to be just like her mother.
At age six, while Dari was away in Kyoto with his father for one of his skating competitions, Millie went to check on her daughter. She pushed the door open, and six-year-old Ren turned around, a pair of scissors in her hand and her hair cut messily above her ears. She ran over and snatched the scissors away from her, but the damage was already done: her daughter’s silky, waist-length hair was no more.
“Maman, I’m Renard,” Ren said. Millie knelt and placed her hands on Ren’s shoulders. “I’m a boy.” Millie paused for a moment before she wrapped her arms around the child who was now her son. Soon, she’d changed her son’s name from Rena Alexandra to Renard Alexis, and while he kept the name Ren, he was now addressed as Ren-kun instead of Ren-chan.
The household didn’t change much. Ren was still the youngest and smartest in his classes, and Dari continued to dominate skating competitions and being homeschooled. Millie and Hayao fell into a routine of sending Ren to school and therapy and taking care of Dari’s affairs, which included keeping up with him and his tutors and taking him to his skating practices and competitions. They were busy, but they were happy, and for the next four years, they thought that life would remain like this indefinitely.
Millie saw the truck too late. They were driving back from Kyoto with the gold medal and pride Dari had won after his beautiful performance at the Japan Junior Figure Skating Championships. She’d been driving for two hours already, and she still had over three hours to go, but she was already so exhausted. She’d gotten used to Dari’s loud snoring and Ren’s soft humming, and the drive was monotone as she sped down the snow-covered highway, flakes of white in a flurry around her car. It obscured her vision and turned the landscape in front of her ever so boringly tranquil, and she strained her eyes to focus on the road. But only when the eighteen-wheeler was too close to her to stop did she realize that there was a truck driving on the wrong side of the road and that she was going to die. So she slammed the brakes, Dari sleeping through the whole ordeal and Ren’s eyes widening at the horrible squeal of tires, and the vehicles collided with a horrible bang.
At age thirty-nine, less than two months before she turned forty, Millie’s life flashed before her eyes. Her greatest fear had always been that her life would’ve been lived for nothing, but as she lay dying with a crumpled piece of metal through her side, she realized her fears were unfounded.
She pictured Hayao, who’d go mad with grief. She picture Vivi, who she hadn’t talked to in months. She pictured her sons in graduation robes and skating costumes. She tried to recall the dream she once had of a perfect family, letting it slip through her hands. She whispered a prayer in her head for Ren and Dari to survive. Being the hardy boys they were, they’d make it somehow.
When the paramedics finally came and wheeled her on a gurney into the back of the ambulance, their shouts sounded far away and her field of vision had already gone completely black. Despite the near unbearable pain, she mustered enough energy for one last smile as one of the paramedics slid the oxygen mask over her face.