Skip to content



“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this nervous before. You’re shaking like a leaf!”

Nancy fastened the last button on the white satin blouse as my hands were trembling too much to accomplish such a simple task. She went over to the bed to gather up my new clothes, a sky blue tunic with delicate dark blue embroidering.

After hearing about my performance the seamstresses took it upon themselves to create a new outfit for me for this occasion. The fabric was soft and fragile, more decorative than functional. It would not have survived five minutes under normal working conditions however it wasn’t created for that purpose.

It was a more like a dress than a tunic but the cut wasn’t right for one. I ran a brush through my hair as Nancy tied the loose ponytail with a blue ribbon. The ensemble was finished off with a dark blue sash around my waist that tied into an ample bow in the back.

Nancy stepped back pleased with herself. “You look wonderful, Anna. They have gone all out for you.”

I looked down, attempting to see myself. As there was no mirror in the room I had to take her word for it. “They didn’t need to do this but I really appreciate it. It’s wonderful.”

Then Nancy had to add to my near panic attack. “I hear the recreation room is near capacity,” she said. “Everyone’s showing up. I’m going to be there too, front row center.”

I felt nauseous at the news.

“I can’t believe I got talked into doing this,” I muttered. “I should have just kept my yap shut.”

“Don’t be silly,” Nancy cooed as she adjusted the tunic a little more. “You have a talent and there’s nothing wrong with showing it off. I wish I could do something like that.”

“Lucky me,” I replied sarcastically.

A knock came on the door, making me jump. Nancy on the other hand was quite calm, after all, she wasn’t the one performing tonight. As I stood in the bedroom compulsively adjusting, brushing and fidgeting, I heard the second voice from the door.

“Hi. Uhm, is Anna there?”

I could hear some hesitancy in Nancy’s voice. “Oh, Jinnai. Hello. Surprised to see you here.”

“Me too.”

“Just come on in. She’s in the other room. I’ll get her.”

I listened to the footsteps and her head peeked in. She looked back behind her and slid back into the bedroom, a mischievous grin on her face. “Your date is here,” she said deliberately.

“He’s not my date,” I growled. “I just invited him to the concert.” I could tell she didn’t believe it.

“I’m going to go ahead to the lounge so I’ll leave you two alone. See you in a bit.”

I buried my face in my hands, embarrassed beyond words.

He was sitting on the sofa looking rather uncomfortable as I walked out, trying to keep casual. Jinnai stood with a bewildered yet happily surprised look on his face. He took a breath, smiling. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I answered shyly. “Well, I guess we better get going.”

Jinnai nodded. “Yeah, let’s go.” The tone of his voice told me he would have rather stayed here with me instead.

Nancy wasn’t kidding when she said the lounge was full. Everyone was seated in sofas and chairs, some even standing against the wall. Apparently the lounge wasn’t designed to have everyone occupying its space at the same time.

Alex was already on stage, plucking a smattering of notes, tuning his guitar. Norman was on stage with him, setting up a stand with the sheet music we worked so hard putting together. As I waited in the doorway, Jinnai went ahead, taking a seat right in front of the stage. The whole place was humming with talking and rustling.

“So, are you ready for your big debut?”

I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Oh gosh, Justin. I didn’t even realize you were behind me. I’m about to fall apart.” I placed a hand on my chest as I caught my breath

Justin laughed. “Don’t worry, we always have a cleaning crew on hand. You’ll do fine.”

I swallowed hard when the first notes of music started from Alex’s guitar. He had seen me hiding in the doorway and was now going to force me into the light.

“Come on,” Justin said as he held out his arm. “Your adoring public awaits.”

We strode arm in arm down the narrow isle to the stage accompanied by polite applause. With a dramatic sweep, Justin helped me onto the stage and I stood before everyone. I scanned around but Jinnai immediately stole my gaze. Suddenly, I didn’t feel as nervous.

Norman stood next to me and started to speak. “Because the lovely and talented Beatrice is held up with a horrible cold she could not join us tonight. So instead we have the equally lovely and talented Anna with compositions from her favorite songwriter.”

He gestured to me with open hands, the applause coming again. Alex had been playing a loop of the starting music and now it was time to get that song on the road.

I love the time and in between
the calm inside me
in the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a
distance I have wandered
to touch upon the years of
reaching out and reaching in
holding out holding in
I believe
this is heaven to no one else but me
and I’ll defend it as long as I can be
left here to linger in silence
if I choose to
would you try to understand
I know this love is passing time
passing through like liquid
I am drunk in my desire…
but I love the way you smile at me
I love the way your hands reach out and hold me near…
I believe…
I believe
this is heaven to no one else but me
and I’ll defend it as long as
I can be left here to linger in silence
if I choose to
would you try to understand
Oh the quiet child awaits the day when she can break free
the mold that clings like desperation
Mother can’t you see I’ve got
to live my life the way I feel is right for me
might not be right for you but it’s right for me…
I believe…
I believe
this is heaven to no one else but me
and I’ll defend it as long as
I can be left here to linger in silence
if I choose to
would you try to understand it
I would like to linger here in silence
if I choose to
would you understand it
would you try to understand…

As the song trailed to its ending, I closed my eyes, listening to the final string of notes. I looked over at my favorite trio sitting in the front row, joining the audience in their quiet, reserved applause.

We did two more songs, one of them more as a joke to force a sing along. Everyone seemed to enjoy the audience participation. As I continued I found myself focusing a lot on Jinnai. His eyes never left me the whole time, even when I moved around the stage.

In my mind the audience began melting away as time passed leaving only Jinnai and myself. Encouraging the fantasy I sat down on the stage, dangling my legs over the edge.

All the fear has left me now
I’m not frightened anymore
It’s my heart that pounds beneath my flesh
it’s my mouth that pushes out this breath
and if I shed a tear I won’t cage it
I won’t fear love
and if I feel a rage I won’t deny it
I won’t fear love
Companion to our demons
they will dance, and we will play
With chairs, candles, and cloth
making darkness in the day
It will be easy to look in or out
upstream or down without a thought
and if I shed a tear I won’t cage it
I won’t fear love
and if I feel a rage I won’t deny it
I won’t fear love
Peace in the struggle
to find peace
comfort on the way
to comfort
and if I shed a tear I won’t cage it
I won’t fear love
and if I feel a rage I won’t deny it
I won’t fear love
I won’t fear love
I won’t fear love…
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the dark rat as I sang those last lines.
I won’t fear love…

With one last song, this time standing, the concert ended a success. With the final round of applause I was shaking as hard afterwards as I did before. The after concert party was just as nerve-wracking. There was more thanks going around than I knew what to do with making me spend an extra hour just speaking to well-wishers.

It was during this occasion that delectable pastries made their way into the room. I couldn’t get enough of the sweet things filled with raspberry jam.

It was also here where I tasted one of the rats’ best kept secrets, a fermented concoction made of grapes and a combination of other berries. I giggled as the mild alcoholic beverage tingled my senses. Give it to the rats to figure out how to make wine.

Mellow from drink, I still felt exhausted. I found myself looking forward to spending a well-deserved quiet evening. Excusing myself from the party I met up with Norman and Alex, thanking them for doing such a wonderful job with the music. We had improvised as best we could and it was to everyone’s credit that it all came together.

I pulled the blue bow out of my hair, setting the red strands free. As I ran my fingers through them, I started to make my way down the corridor back to the room where I was sure Nancy, if not Justin as well would be waiting to squeeze what little gossip they could. That second to last performance certainly would have everyone talking.

“That was really great.” Jinnai stood in the dim corridor, waiting for me.

“Thanks,” I replied, happy to see that he did come back. “I thought I wouldn’t see you until tomorrow.”

“I just wanted to walk my mother back to her room,” he answered. “The parties, as rare as they are, tire her out quickly.” He paused, giving a shy smile. “She really wants to meet you. She says she want to meet the one who figured out how to get me to come out in public without panicking.”

“You don’t look like the panicking sort,” I added. “No one seemed to bother you either so that’s good too.”

Jinnai glanced away. “I never worried about anyone bothering me. In fact, I sometimes wished they would. At least they would be acknowledging my existence.”

“That’ll take time,” I replied. “Rats are just like people and can be just as stubborn with their beliefs. They’ll come around.”

At first we headed to my room. “Maybe I should just hang low for a while,” I muttered. Jinnai turned, not understanding.

“What do you mean by that? I thought you were tired.”

“I am,” I answered. “But if you haven’t noticed already, Nancy is kind-of gossipy. I’m not looking forward to facing her. She can be relentless.”

“Gossipy about what?” Jinnai asked, throwing the bait.

“Stuff.” I wasn’t ready to say anything yet.

“Not to be presumptuous,” Jinnai started, “But I do have a room to myself. Why don’t we just go there until Nancy falls asleep? Then you can go back.”

My human side kicked in full force. “Is that a pick-up line?” I sarcastically snorted.

“What? No, I just thought…” Jinnai grimaced, a bit embarrassed.

I laughed, patting him on the arm. “I’m just kidding. It sounds fine.”

By now I realized every private room in the community was built exactly the same. Small, cozy and neat, Jinnai’s room was comfortingly silent. I immediately gravitated to his sofa, throwing myself onto the soft cushions.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he joked after the fact.

I covered my eyes with my arm, partially falling asleep. “I can’t understand why I’m so tired. All I did was stand on a stage and belt out a few tunes.”

“Maybe you were just that nervous.” The cushions shifted as Jinnai sat on the opposite end of the couch. I slightly tucked my toes under his warm thigh. “You did really well. I enjoyed myself.”

I put down my arm. “Thank you. You’re really sweet.”

“I just need to ask though,” Jinnai tapped his thumbs together. “Why did you sit down on the stage like that?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just felt like it… singing to you. Why? Didn’t you like it?”

A small laugh escaped him. “Yes, I really did. Thank you.”

I yawned, stretching my arms. I didn’t feel like leaving. “Do you mind if I slept on your couch for a little while? I am just beat.”

“Of course,” Jinnai answered. “Why don’t you sleep in my bed and I’ll take the couch. It’s okay.”

My mind went back to that first night in Justin’s room.

“Oh no, ” I said. “I am not going to put you out of your own bed. I already did that to Justin. The sofa is absolutely fine.” I refused to budge.

Jinnai stood up. “Then the least I can do is get you a blanket.” He walked off into the bedroom, rummaging through the closet. “I hope one is okay. I don’t usually have extra blankets for guests.”

“That’s fine,” I answered. I stretched out on the couch as Jinnai covered me with the blanket. “I promise I’ll be out of here first chance I get.”

Jinnai knelt down, leaning against the sofa so that he was eye level with me. “There’s no need to rush. You are welcome to stay as long as you need to.” He paused then began to speak again. “I just want to let you know that I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me.”

I propped my head up. “You don’t need to thank me. I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done anyway.”

“But you did do something not a lot of rats here bothered to. You treated me like a member of this community, not like a bomb waiting to go off.”

“I treated you like a human being,” I said, knowing the full irony of the statement. ” Like I said, it’s nothing to thank me for. I would have done it for anybody.”

“Would you?”

I let out a laugh at his self-doubt. “Okay, if you really want to know, you were just too cute to pass up.” I couldn’t help but giggle at his blushing.

“So why did you choose that particular song for me?” he asked.

I hesitated to answer. “If you want the truth it wasn’t really for you. It was more for me.”

Jinnai cocked his head, not understanding what I meant.

“Just take my word for it.” I replied. “It’s a little hard to explain.”

He thought for a moment, pausing before asking his next question. “If you had to pick one song, which one would it be?”

I didn’t hesitate to answer. In fact, I was hoping he would ask.

Listen as the wind blows from across the great divide
voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time
the night is my companion, and solitude my guide
would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?
and I would be the one
to hold you down
kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away
and after, I’d wipe away the tears
just close your eyes dear
Through this world I’ve stumbled
so many times betrayed
trying to find an honest word to find
the truth enslaved
oh you speak to me in riddles
and you speak to me in rhymes
my body aches to breathe your breath
your words keep me alive
And I would be the one
to hold you down
kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away
and after, I’d wipe away the tears
just close your eyes dear
Into this night I wander
it’s morning that I dread
another day of knowing of
the path I fear to tread
oh into the sea of waking dreams
I follow without pride
nothing stands between us here
and I won’t be denied
and I would be the one
to hold you down
kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away
and after, I’d wipe away the tears
just close your eyes…

Jinnai lifted himself up, sitting on the edge of the sofa next to me. He placed his hand by my face, pressing the palm of his hand against my cheek, caressing my fur with his thumb.

I gasped, feeling as if I had stopped breathing. I felt the warmth from his hand as my eyelids half-closed. I looked away, savoring his touch. I could feel him lean closer, his breath warm against my muzzle. I wanted so much to look at him, to look into his eyes but I fought it. I don’t know why but I did… like I was afraid.

I won’t fear love…

I felt his other hand reach under my chin. With a gentle finger, he pressed up, making me look up at him. Our eyes locked and for that moment, nothing else existing. There were no rats, no valley, and no world. Just us sitting together, enveloped by our own emotions, the only sound the pounding of our hearts in our chests.

I didn’t want this to happen. All the reason in the world told me this couldn’t happen. Yet reason did not exist any longer.

With a small, hesitant movement, Jinnai leaned forward, softly placing his lips on mine.



Lyrics © Sarah McLachlan from the album “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”

Secondary Sidebar