It is only 11:00am and already I have lost all concentration to work again.
I stare at the drawings in front of me. Precise. Clean. They were drawn completely perfect.
But what was it that Paul said at my last review?
"Yuu, your drawings are always wonderful. They are everything I expect from someone who graduated at the top of their class. But…"
And there was the but…
"Your designs always lack certain emotion. Things that say, this is a work of Yuu Matsuura. Where is your passion? Gees, how many times do I have to say this? Buildings are just not beams and plaster. They should be a reflection of the architect. Your thoughts, your emotions. Right here."
Paul had thumped his right fist onto his chest to make the point.
"No matter how aesthetically pleasing they are, your designs don't connect well with people."
And that is why, after four years of studying architecture, and five years working at the New York office of Archer & Marcox Architects, I still haven't been able to head my own project.
"Look Yuu, I can't give you a project on your own until you can actually give me a design that I can look at and feel that is a Yuu Matsuura design."
I don't blame Paul for not letting me head a project. Rather, I completely understand what he means. Sometimes I look at my own work and I wonder, why can't I put a part of myself in it?
When exactly did this happen?
Why do I bother asking, I know exactly when.
Nine years ago.
I run my hands through my blonde hair. It's getting long again, I really should cut it.
I pick up my coffee mug. When all concentration is gone and my mind wanders to things I don't want to remember, going for coffee seems like the only thing left to do.
"Hey Yuu, wait up, I need some caffeine too. Just need to find my mug"
I look over to the desk beside me to see a mess of chestnut brown hair rise up above a towering stack of drafting paper.
Mark's war zone desk really shouldn't be a shock to me anymore, but still, I burst out laughing as he slowly places one, then two, three, four, five, six…..a total of nine paper cups on top of the paper pile.
"Found it! But aargh, I don't think I should really drink anything from it again. I guess I'll grab another paper cup"
Mark joined the firm about a couple of years ago. He is very popular in the firm and probably made more friends in his first few days here than I had made since I started. He is probably the first close friend I've had in a while ever since Bill moved to California, and that is only because Mark was pretty insistent in bringing me along in everything no matter how much I resisted.
Hey Yuu, come out for drinks with us or else I'm going to unplug your computer.
Put down that pencil, we are all going for lunch, my treat!
Yuu, you play tennis right? You got to help me out, my partner skipped out on me and I have a doubles match tonight!
"So how was the date with Rachel last night?" I asked. Despite his messy appearance, Mark easily attracts women around him with his easy charm. Yesterday however, the normally suave lady's killer was actually nervous about his date with the new marketing executive at the firm.
"Good good," he smiles. "We went to dinner, then grabbed a drink at Julio's and just talked for hours. We're going out again tomorrow night."
"Congrats! She is a good catch."
"Haha, yeah. Well, once you confirmed that Rachel didn't ask you out first before asking me, I knew we were going to work out."
I laugh. It is a joke between us. When Mark first arrived at the firm, a woman from the accounts department came and asked me out. When I said I was too busy to go, she turned right around and asked Mark out. Mark is the kind of guy who is too nice to say no and would go out on at least one time out of politeness. That one date turned out to be a complete disaster involving a kitchen fire, a blackout for six blocks, and a severe case of food poisoning. Shortly after, Mark agreed to go out with another woman who had asked me out first. That date ended up with a hospital visit, a broken leg, and another case of severe food poisoning.
"She's all yours Mark. Didn't you notice how she turned all red the first time she saw you? I don't think she even knows I exist."
Mark grins. "So what about you join us for dinner tomorrow so that I can introduce her to you? I can ask Rachel to bring along another friend. The four of us can play a doubles game of tennis before dinner."
"Nice try Mark."
Mark tries hard trying to set me up on dates. Only Mark continues to persist while everyone else in the firm stopped trying ages ago to set me up. Of course, I've heard people chatting about why I don't date. Last week, I overheard two people saying I don't date because I was secretly in love with Mark and was hoping to start a torrid affair with him.
I gave up on dating a while ago. In university, I went on a couple of group dates, but the girls never interested me. I always smiled politely, but in the end when they give me their phone numbers asking me to call them up soon, I always throw away the piece of paper on my way home.
None of them interest me.
Not after Miki.
A smile and a clench escape from my heart. It is mixed sweetness and bitterness when I think of Miki.
Even now, nine years since I last saw her.
Miki, the love of my life.
Miki, my half-sister.
I sigh. I need to go for more coffee.
It is almost 5:00pm. Paul has been in a meeting with Joan, one of the senior architects of the firm, for more than an hour. I had hoped to show him some of the drawings he asked for, but if his meeting don't end soon…
Suddenly, Paul's office door opens. He scans the room until his eyes land on mine, and he motions me into his office.
Joan is sitting in one of the chairs in front of Paul's desk, and smiles warmly at me when I enter. "You have an exciting project ahead of you Yuu," she says.
Paul indicates for me to sit down in the chair beside Joan while he goes back to his chair. Paul peers at me for a few seconds and then gives me a small smile.
"Okay Yuu. I must admit, I am still a bit hesitant about how much you have been able to develop your designs, but I do have faith in your abilities and also because we are in a bit of a jam…"
"We want you to take over a renovation project," says Joan. "I originally agreed to take it, but the directors of the museum project in Paris have received a huge donation recently and so they want to expand the original designs. It turns out I'm going to be too busy to take this second project."
I am going to get to head a project?
"It is the Himekawa Cultural Center in Tokyo that was originally designed in the 1960s. The project our firm is undertaking is modeled after the Louvre renovation project. It will involve renovating the old parts of the building, but also adding new elements including a new wing, which will be your main concern."
The Himekawa Cultural Center. How many times have I passed by it when I was a teenager? Admiring its design, thinking how one day I would like to be an architect so that I can be a part of creating something like it….
"It is without a doubt that you are very talented architect Yuu, and since you are fluent in Japanese, it will make communicating with our Japanese partners a lot easier…"
Can I do it though? Paul's earlier words echoes through my head. What part of me would I put into the design?
"A Japanese firm, Higurashi Design, is going to be our partner on the interior renovations, so you will be working closely with them."
She is there.
"If you have any hesitations or concerns Yuu, it's okay to let us know. The Himekawa cultural center is not huge project, but we understand it is quite a significant institution in Tokyo. If for any reasons you don't think you can…."
I stand up quickly. I want this. I want this project.
"Thank you for the confidence in me. I will gladly accept this project."
I have spent nine years running away from her.
Yet knowing she is there, what did I just say?
What have I just agreed to?