May looked up at Mami with tears glistening in her eyes as she nodded. Holding the hands of Mami to her right and Juliet to her left, she bowed her head and thanked the Lord for putting food on the table and for giving her the chance to be a part of this family. But before she ended grace, a mischievous thought came over her.
“And dear Lord, since I will be leaving my new family tomorrow and my brother Urs isn’t here with us, please allow me to attend his performance at the pub tonight. I promise to be good and stay out of trouble. Amen.”
“But you know the people at the pub, Josh. Bring them to the back or something, let them have a glimpse of Urs performing. They’ll have the shock of their lives,” Lynette suggested, shoving Joshua’s arm to persuade him, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Big Brother would be horrified if he saw his baby sisters watching him perform those rock numbers.
The girls hurriedly wolfed down down their food and ran upstairs to change. Joshua couldn’t believe it when they both turned up in jeans, t-shirts, jackets and a big smile on their faces in record time.
They reached the pub twenty minutes later in the old family car. Telling the girls to stay in the car, he went into the pub to search out the manager, a friend of his and Urs’s. After exchanging some words, he went out and told the girls to follow him to the back of the building where he led them into the pub through the back door.
May and Juliet could hear the faint sound of music coming from the front of the pub and as they got closer to the back of the stage where the band was performing, they could hear the unmistakable voice of Big Brother singing the lead.
May and Juliet stood dumbstruck as they watched from the side of the stage, out of sight of the pub patrons and the band, though if Urs had turned to his left he’d surely notice them. However he was busy prancing on the stage, head-banging away, his loose curly locks flying about his face as he moved to the music.
He worked up the Saturday night crowd like a pro; his hips swaying ever so smoothly in snug-fitting jeans drove the few women patrons wild and solicited some screams and whistles. His air-guitar act sent them screaming in exhilaration.
May wasn’t only impressed with his singing, she loved his moves as well. She had never been to a rock concert and this experience was not only an eye-opener for her in the concert sense, it also showed her the wild side of the ever serious Big Brother. It was a sight that would forever be etched in her memory.
Joshua observed both girls with a big grin on his face. It was about time they learnt the truth about their Big Brother; he wasn’t all work and no play. He played, but played seriously. Music was his passion and family, his responsibility. He had somehow found a balance between the two and Joshua would always respect him for that.
Before the show ended, Joshua herded the girls out of the pub and into the car amid their protest.
“But it hasn’t ended yet,” Juliet argued.
“It’d be too late by then. Urs wouldn’t be pleased to see us there.” Joshua started the engine and drove away.
“He’s awesome,” May gushed.
“You’re too kind,” Joshua smirked.
“I knew he could scream, but I didn’t know he could scream like THAT,” Juliet chimed in, still feeling the adrenaline that the band’s performance had brought on and she couldn’t help feeling hyper.
“I wish we could stay and talk to him and his band mates,” May said wistfully. She had wanted to tell Urs how much she enjoyed his performance but of course that wasn’t possible. He would be furious if he knew that they had been there. A new type of screaming would ensue, no doubt, she thought with a wry smile.
As he stopped the car at the red light, Joshua turned to both girls sitting at the backseat, “Promise me you’ll never breathe a word of this to Urs. My eardrums will burst if he knew.” Both girls nodded.
“But what about the manager of the pub? Wouldn’t he tell on us?” Juliet asked, suddenly feeling worried.
“He won’t. I told him to keep it a secret. Now, please don’t act like a silly star-crazed chick when you see him in the morning, ok?” Despite the fear of Big Brother finding out this little escapade, Joshua grinned at the thought of his little sisters going gaga over Urs. He always had that effect on women, young and old, and Joshua used to feel a little jealous about it until he met Rose.
By the time they reached home, both girls were bursting to tell Lynette and Mami what they had just witnessed. Juliet even did an impersonation of Urs on stage, head-banging away, doing air-guitar and strutting around in the living room to the laughter of everyone. It was quite a sight to behold as she did it so well, her own curly hair exactly the same as Urs’ and she had on the same kind of outfit: jeans, t-shirt and jacket. It was almost perfect, except that there was no music, that was, until Joshua added his voice to the performance, mimicking Urs’ singing.
Mami laughed till her sides hurt and tears rolled down her cheeks and Lynette didn’t fare any better either. May rolled on the floor laughing at both performers, thoughts of leaving the family she had just found temporarily pushed to the back of her mind.
May stood staring at her luggage. She didn’t want to leave, but she had to. There was going to be a performance in school and she wanted desperately to be picked for that. It was an event to showcase the talents in the school to potential students, their parents, music directors and even talent scouts. Not that she wanted to be spotted by the scouts; she just loved performing on the big stage. Standing up on the stage somehow took away all her troubles, leaving her with just her violin and her music.
“Big Brother went to town this morning and I tagged along. Told him I wanted to get something for you. Pick one.”
At the mention of Big Brother, both girls shared a look and burst out laughing. Juliet immediately launched into ‘Send Me An Angel’, complete with the air-guitar act and prancing, causing May to fall into a heap on the floor laughing.
When the laughter died down, May looked at the soft toys with real tears in her eyes, “Thank you, Julie. You’re the best.” She picked the grey one.
“But I didn’t pay for these. Big Brother did. Why the grey one and not the pink one?”
“Because I know you don’t like to be the pink hippo. You never did like pink colour. So if I have the grey one I’ll think of you when I look at it. And you’ll think of me when you see your pink hippo because I like pink,” May reasoned with a smile.
“Do you mind that I didn’t pay for it? Urs insisted on paying, saying that I should save my money for a rainy day. Wonder when that day would come,” Juliet rolled her eyes and May giggled.
“I think you’d rather not have a rainy day. No, I don’t mind. It was very sweet of both of you,” May hugged the hippo close to her heart, then put it into her luggage.
“Please don’t name your hippo after me, May. I don’t think I want anyone to think of me as a hippo,” Juliet joked.
“No, it should be Juliurs, since Urs paid for it.” Juliet looked smug for having thought of that name.
“Ok, but please don’t tell Urs about it. I don’t want him to scream at me before I leave.”
“Neither do I,” Juliet agreed before helping May by lugging her luggage downstairs. May carried her precious violin and looking around the bedroom one last time with a heavy heart, closed the door and followed her friend down the stairs.
Mami, Urs, Joshua and Lynette were waiting at the foot of the stairs for them. The moment May’s eyes connected with Mami, she rushed down the stairs and into her arms, dropping her violin in the process. Mami hugged her tightly, stroked her hair and whispered, “Don’t cry, sweetie. You’ll be back here again in a few months’ time. Shhh.”
“I’m going to miss you, Mami. I know I will,” May sobbed as she held on to Mami in a death grip.
“And I will miss you, too, little one. So will your brothers and sisters here,” Mami’s eyes reddened as she kissed the teenager’s head.
Lynette approached her and cuddled her, “We’ll see you this Christmas, May.” May let Lynette’s warmth engulf her as she sobbed.
Joshua stood with open arms, “Come here and give me your rare and special hug, little sis.”
“Hey, I didn’t do anything at all. Now you be good and do us proud, alright? I want to hear your name on tv and the radio and read it in the newspaper, so make sure you practice and study hard.”
Urs stood aside and observed the little girl while she went about saying her goodbyes to his family members. In such a short time she had embedded herself into their hearts and he wasn’t immune to her either. Her talent and intelligence impressed him and her soft-spoken nature charmed him. He regretted being harsh towards her but then he was only trying to protect her. She and Juliet would always be his baby sisters though they might not always appreciate that.
Finally she turned to Juliet, whose eyes were red with unshed tears. They shared a hug and said nothing. Words weren’t necessary as they understood how each other felt. But before May could walk away, Juliet asked, “What should I call pink hippo?”
“I like that. May Ling. Bye May, please write,” Juliet hugged her one last time before allowing Urs to lead her away.
Everyone piled out the front door and stood and watched while Urs put the luggage and the violin into the sidecar of his motorcycle. It wasn’t a Harley Davidson as he’d like it to be but still, it was the first bike he bought with the money he earned and saved and he was proud of it.
Urs smiled. “Yes. Julie said you’ve never rode a bike before so I thought we’d get to the airport in this.” He helped her put on her helmet before strapping on his own. May turned to wave at the farewell party behind her before climbing up on the bike behind Urs.
“Hold on tight,” he called back before starting the engine. Off they went and May almost lost her grip on his waist but when she regained her hold on him, she held on tight, too tight perhaps as Urs laughingly pried her fingers open to relax her grip a little. “I can’t breathe,” he explained. May had one last look around town, trying to remember the few familiar places that she had visited.
They finally made it to the airport after slightly more than an hour with May feeling numb from her waist down. Urs had to carry her off the bike and held on to her while she tried to regain the use of her legs. He laughed when she tried to command her legs to walk but was still standing there after several minutes. In spite of her embarrassing situation, she could still see the funny side of it and laughed along with him.
“I don’t think I want to try horseback riding anymore,” she finally managed to say while still laughing.
He walked her to the check-in counter and helped her check in her luggage. Suddenly it was time to say goodbye as he walked her to the departure area.
“Goodbye, May. Take good care of yourself,” he said before giving her a bear hug, enveloping her small form in his lean muscular chest. Patting her back soothingly, his kissed her forehead.
“Thank you, Big Brother,” her voice muffled as she hid her face in his chest, trying to stifle a sob. Taking a deep breath, she pushed away from him and smiled bravely, “I’ll write to Julie to let you all know how I’m doing.”
“Yes, please. You know who to look for if you need anything,” he blinked his eyes at her, causing her smile to widen. Mami always did that when she was pleased with her. She picked up her violin and with another deep breath, turned and walked through the departure gate, turning back once to wave goodbye. It took all her will power not to run back and tell him how awesome she thought he was last night.
“You have to go, May. It’s in your best interest,” Urs gently persuaded the sobbing girl. Mami sat on the couch and watched, her heart heavy with sadness that her little one had to take such a big step at such a young age.
“Anyway, it’s just an audition. You might not even make it, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know,” again, Big Brother cajoled, staring at the young girl seated in front of him.
“But I don’t want to go to America. It’s so far away and I’m scared,” the young girl looked at Urs with pleading eyes. She was home on a school break and wasn’t expecting to be sent away again. Why was he doing this to her?
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You often go to London on your own and stay there in the hostel; it will be the same in the States. Then during school breaks you’ll come back here again like you always do.” Urs gently wiped away her tears, hoping she would get over the fear of studying in a foreign country so far away from home. Home now was of course the house of the Buhlers’ in Switzerland, although she spent most of her time studying in London.
“It’s so much further. Besides, I’m happy with my school. Why do I have to change?” May asked, desperation in her voice.
“Because you’re good and you need the best education and Oberlin will make you better. I’m not saying your current school isn’t good, I’m just saying you should give Oberlin a try. Many great musicians hail from there and I think you have the potential to be a really good violinist. Trust me, May.”
Hearing those words from Urs made her stop and think: was she really that good? Urs is a music student as well and he’ll be a music teacher once he graduates from school, so if he says I’m good, then maybe I’m really good, she reasoned with herself. She looked at Mami who smiled tenderly at her. If Mami wasn’t objecting, then maybe she agreed with Big Brother.
May looked into Urs’s hazel-brown eyes and saw the tenderness there as well. The past two years since her parents died he and Mami had been her rock to lean on. She wouldn’t have made it past the first few months of being back in school if it wasn’t for the constant phone conversations she had with Mami and Urs. She would cry every time she heard Mami’s voice over the line and when Big Brother came on the phone to talk to her, she would calm down and everything was fine again, until the next bout of loneliness struck her.
Reluctantly, she nodded her head. To her, England seemed far enough; now she had to fly all the way to the United States, it would be so much harder for her to make short trips back home. She wouldn’t be able to go back to Mami and Juliet when there was a long weekend involving a public holiday on a Friday or Monday, not that she often did that, only occasionally as Urs would chide her for wasting her time and energy travelling. He was concerned for her health but she needed the security that only her new home and family could provide.
However, the thought of bringing her music to another level, of making Mami and Big Brother and Josh proud of her made it seem more bearable for her. Joshua had always told her how awesome she was with the violin and she did promise him she’ll make it to the top one day. Maybe this move would help her in that direction. And she did hear her stepmother mention Oberlin a few times to her father so perhaps they wanted her to study there one day. Anyway, music is her passion. She wouldn’t know what to do if that was taken away from her.
Urs smiled. She was so sensible, he had no doubt that she would adapt to the new. He would personally be spending the beginning few weeks with her if she was accepted by the school to help ease her into the routine in another foreign country. In fact, he would fly with her to the audition which was only two months away. It would mean spending some money on flight and accommodation but he had saved some money from the various jobs that he had held over the years to supplement the household expenses and pay for his studies and that of Juliet’s. For the sake of May’s future, he had to do something.
He often wondered how she had so easily crept into their hearts and that the way he felt for her now was a stark contrast to the way he felt about her when he first saw her. To her, he often used a softer approach of reasoning rather than a high-handed approach. It was a different approach to what he would use on Juliet, who often needed to be pushed in the right direction.
He had big plans for both his younger sisters. When he had settled May’s education, he would work on Juliet’s. The wild child had been difficult to handle but she did manage to get good grades for her first year of post secondary education. Another two years of good results and she would be able to enter university. Urs often wondered if she would make it past her lower secondary education but she did, making him proud. But it took all of them, him, Lynette, Joshua and sometimes even May, to keep her in line and focused. She was lucky to have all of them to support her, to constantly check on her despite them living away from home.
Juliet had shown great interest in science subjects and Urs had suggested to her that she could take up bio-science when she entered the university. That piqued her interest and helped her to focus more in her studies instead of just scrapping through with no real sense of what she wanted to do for her future. She was still wild, often going off trekking up the mountains with a group of friends during holidays or riding a motorcycle even though she was still not eligible to get a driving permit. Mami couldn’t tame her wild streaks but then it was more so because she loved her daughter too much to restrict her. She knew Juliet would never be tied down as she loved the outdoors too much; much like her big brother, but big brother had a big responsibility on his shoulders so that kept him grounded.
That evening, when Juliet came home from school to learn about Urs’ plan for May, she wasn’t in the least bit happy about it.
“Why did you have to send her so far away, Urs?” she asked with angry eyes staring at him over the dining table.
“It’s for her own good,” he simply replied. He hated separating them again but he had to do what was best for May.
“May, do you want to go? You know you don’t have to listen to Urs, don’t you?” Juliet turned to her best friend and asked, almost begging her not to go.
“Urs is right. Oberlin is a very reputed music school and I heard Mummy said I should enrol there one day when I’m ready. I’m sure I’ll get the best education I can have over there. I’ll be back on holidays, I promise,” May reached for her best friend’s hand and looked reassuringly into her eyes.
Juliet could only nod her head, not trusting herself to say anything. She had become so attached to May despite their frequent separation that she worried the day could come that May would drift farther away from them. “Promise you won’t forget us?” she asked in a small voice, not daring to look at her best friend for fear that she might cry.
“Of course I won’t! You’re the only family I have, all of you,” May said as she looked from Juliet to Urs to Mami, her eyes shiny with tears. “I will never forget you. Ever.” The last word was spoken with conviction and a brave smile.
Urs smiled and reached over to pat May’s hand, telling her he was pleased with her by giving her a blinky-wink.
All throughout the flight to the US, May had kept to herself. Sitting next to the window, she either just stared at the clouds that they were travelling through or shut her eyes. To Urs it seemed like she was blaming him for putting her through the possibility of losing her only family. Did she think that he didn’t want her in his home anymore? How could it be when he’d explained it very clearly to her why he was doing what he did? Even Mami had assured her that she was loved by everyone and that was why they wanted her to succeed. Music was her passion, and with him being so passionate about music himself, he should know what was best for her. Wasn’t that assurance enough for her?
Urs sighed. Maybe she was just too young to appreciate all this. She was sixteen, sweet sixteen that was supposed to be the best time of a girl’s life. Not so it seemed for May at least. She had had it tough; losing her mother at seven, her father and stepmother at fourteen, and now to her it seemed like she was going to lose her place in the Buhler household too by just studying so far away from home. Urs turned his head slightly to observe her. Was that what she was worrying about? Losing them all as her family?
He smiled. It would never happen. Joshua, Lynette, Juliet and Mami were all so taken in by her soft and gentle nature that they had found her endearing and were fiercely protective of her. Even Joshua had told him not to push her too hard, afraid that she wouldn’t be able to take the pressure. It was the last thing on Urs’s mind, to pressurise her to the point of breakdown. Deep inside of him he knew she would be able to adapt, having seen how quickly she had picked herself up from all the setbacks that life had dealt her.
“Are you alright, May?” he finally broke the silence.
She nodded, not bothering to turn to him, still staring out the window. He put a hand over her shoulder and pulled her close, kissed her forehead and said, “It’s going to be all right, sweetie. You’ll get used to it, and I promise we will all be looking forward to your return during school breaks and Christmas.”
“What if I don’t make it at the audition?” her voice was small with a little tremble.
Was that what she was worrying about? Not making it? Urs shook his head and chuckled, drawing a puzzled look from May. He looked at her, her frame so small she could easily pass off as being just thirteen instead of sixteen, but she was partly Asian, and Urs knew most Asians are typically smaller in built. She must have taken after her Asian mother more than her British father. Juliet, though not very tall, had grown up to look like a young adult, and had been getting lots of attention from boys in her school. It was getting harder to keep an eye on her, he smiled at the thought.
“It’s alright, May. Just give it your best shot. No matter what happens, we’ll always love you and you’ll always be our shining star, never doubt that, ok?”
May looked up at him and nodded, the tiniest hint of a smile on her face. She still felt nervous and worried; her mind was torn in two. One said she had to make it for her future and for Big Brother who had gone through so much trouble to get her here. The other one dreaded being so far away from Mami and everyone else she loved; would they forget her in time? But Mami said everyone at home loved her, and Mami never lied. She understood what Urs was trying to do for her and she appreciated the support he had given her to pursue her passion. She just couldn’t help feeling lonely; she wished she had her Juliurs with her right now so she could cuddle it and let it warm her little heart. But she had Urs now, so she snuggled closer into his arm and closed her eyes.
Urs stroked her hair and hummed a tune softly while still holding her head against his chest. Soon her breathing evened and he too shut his eyes and slept.
By the time they checked into their adjoining hotel rooms, it was near midnight. Urs decided to sit in May’s room and observe her as she went about preparing for the night and the next day; he wanted to see how she was handling the audition. They made small talk while she went about her business.
May was tired and she wasn’t sure she could perform at all at the audition the next day. The only good thing was that it was held in the afternoon so it meant she could sleep late. But she couldn’t, she had to practise.
“Urs, can you wake me up at eight tomorrow?” she asked him, knowing that he would be up by then.
“You should sleep in, you look tired.”
“I need to practise. Please?”
“Ok, I’ll wake you at nine,” he smiled. She was definitely feeling the nerves but perhaps a good night’s sleep would help calm it.
“Night, sweetie,” he said and planted a kiss on her forehead as she settled into the bed before walking to his own room, leaving both the adjoining room doors slightly ajar.
He had paid for all the expenses so he was definitely going to make good use of their short time in the city. He had plans to go sightseeing with May after her audition. Even though her parents had left her a hefty sum of money and a couple of properties as inheritance, he didn’t feel the need to use any of her funds for her expenses. He could afford it. Her money could be put to better use when she was accepted by Oberlin.
He was up early the next morning and after a refreshing workout at the gym, he went back to the room to shower before waking May. They had breakfast in her room and after that, he sat and watched while she practised. Listening to her, he knew that she would make it into the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. It was a bittersweet feeling as it would mean that she would be far away from home but he knew it would go a long way in shaping her musical career.
They got to the audition with fifteen minutes to spare. May sat quietly waiting for her turn with Urs beside her, holding her hand and patting it.
“Don’t worry, May. You’re made for this,” he assured her with a smile.
She turned to look into his eyes and instead of the steely stare he gave her on their first meeting, this time she saw warmth and gentleness. It made her cheeks flush and she quickly averted her eyes and focused them on the young boy who just walked out of the audition room, his head hung low.
“Miss May Wong-Stewart,” a lady with plenty of legs walked out after the boy and looked at the two people sitting quietly together.
May quickly stood, holding her violin in her hand. Urs stood next to her and as the lady approached them, he held out his hand to her.
“Hi, my name is Urs Buhler and I’m May’s foster brother,” he said as he shook the lady’s hand, a hint of a smile on his face.
The lady was momentarily taken aback by his good-looks and shy smile and soon found herself inviting him into the audition room to watch the proceeding. As he followed the sashaying hips in front of him and May he wondered with a frown if the female teachers here wore mini-skirts all the time. Turning to May, he saw her giving him an amused and knowing look. It hit him then that she knew what he was looking at and not knowing what to say, he stuck out his tongue at her. May giggled behind her hand as they continued to follow behind Miss Leggy.
That little silent exchange with Big Brother relaxed May enough to impress the panel of judges. She replied to the interview questions with poise and confidence and her performance with the violin was almost perfect. Urs had no doubt that she only needed a little more coaching and she’d be perfect and he knew this school would bring out the best in her.