Twenty-two years ago, a teenage boy and girl befriended each other one summer. While the two started off as mere acquaintances who believed they had nothing in common until a camping trip revealed secrets about them, the two teens became the longtime friends they were today. In those two decades, Colby, a food-fighting amateur trained to follow in his late father's footsteps and become a food-fighting master. It wouldn't have been possible without the meaningful, yet blunt support of his pal, Sage. Since she was a young girl, she worked as a waitress at her father's restaurant, The Rice Bowl. But after receiving her bachelor's degrees in writing and philosophy, the bluenette turned in her apron for a laptop, making a living as an author.
As long as the childhood friends had each other, they fared pretty well on their own. That especially applied when they had children, raising them as single parents. Sage thought she would have a difficult time without her mother to guide her through parenthood, but it's a good thing her father who, while coming off as a less than ideal parent, showed her that tough love never fails. Colby, on the other hand, was ecstatic with the idea of being a parent. Though his mother never was in his life and his father took care of him for a few years, the food-fighting master still felt confident he could be a better father than he was.
Another summer day ended with the sky darkening at about nine. Summers were treated like a sacred tradition to Colby and Sage considering it was the season they first met. They weren't just vacations for relaxing, they also served as learning experiences. To learn more about themselves and each other every year and they both made sure their children understood that. That night, the best friends were in the middle of their weekly video chat to keep tabs on one another and discuss matters in private or just to vent. Sitting by her work desk in her cozy room, wearing a pink tank top and white shorts with her shoulder-length hair up in a messy bun, Sage shared a hearty laugh with her friend. Not long until she focused her light, ocean blue eyes on a photo of her and her children from a few years back. She placed a hand on one of her rosy, pink cheeks, letting out a sigh.
"What's up, you alright? Getting tired?" asked the voice of a male in his thirties, coming from Sage's monitor.
On the other end, Colby laid in bed with his tablet. Doing away with the headbands he wore as a kid, the professional food fighter sported a shorter, spiked cut and wore an eye-patch over his right eye. That same eye he lost to rather sudden, unfortunate circumstances in his teen years. Like his pal, he also dressed to accommodate to the warm weather, donning a white tank top that flaunted his muscular physique and orange and black gym shorts.
"A little," Sage stifled a yawn, looking back at the screen. "I've been up since three last night just to finish this one chapter... I had no idea writing about cherries and insomnia would almost give me insomnia."
"Heh heh, still makes for a good page-turner. Man, I need to start reading your books again. Didja finally get around to solving that little picture dilemma I told ya about?" Colby asked.
"Uh, yes? I started doing that in my last two books, you dork. Gosh, not everything you have to read needs pictures like your stupid comics."
"Exsqueeze me? Sage, I'll have you know that comics are far from stupid, okay? They have action, they have explosions, they have violence, and a WHOLE bunch of other things that make 'em exciting! For you to say that they're 'stupid' means you've probably never read one yourself."
"I have, for your information. Did you forget all the times you'd forced me to read those lame... what's he called? Captain... Cauliflower comics?" the rosy-cheeked woman asked as the blond shook his head with a sigh.
"It's cabbage, woman! Cab-bage! You know you don't know jack about comics when you butcher the name of the greatest series of all-time!" the food-fighting master spat.
"Ugh, why are we talking about this again? I feel like we have this discussion every week."
"Hey, you keep bringing it up every week. Don't pin that on me."
"Oh, shut your eye-patch wearing face already."
Colby chuckled, taking a glance at a photo of him with his own child by the nightstand, "...it's pretty crazy, isn't it?"
"What, our weekly debates about our taste in books?" Sage asked, grabbing a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels to munch on.
"Well, yeah, that... but isn't it insane how we spent most of our lives together?"
"It sure is. It's been, what... about twenty or so years since we met? Hanging out and becoming food fighters together."
"And back when Mr. Snugglepuss was on our butts 24/7. 'Colby, stop calling me Mr. Snuggly-Wuggly! I'd rather be subjected to a boat's worth of Perkin's Delight than be addressed as that again!'" the blond impersonated in a slight accent, laughing with the woman.
"Oh, miss him so much... I wonder what happened to him, do you know?" the bluenette asked.
"Nope, I thought you'd know. But it was fun having him around, even if he did boss us around on the daily. Didn't stop us from being the darn good buds we are."
"You got that right and it's weird that we've remained friends even when we have our own lives. With our own families, our own children..."
"Say, when's the time you found out you were pregnant anyway? I don't think you told me about that." Colby asked, scratching his head.
"Why'd you have to ask," Sage moaned, rolling her eyes to the ceiling before placing them back on the screen. "Remember when I dated that one guy who was a regular at The Rice Bowl?"
"That scumbag? Why, what happened?"
"Welp, about a month before he dumped me, dad called me and my brothers over for a meeting."
About fourteen years ago, the now adult children of Herb, owner of The Rice Bowl, gathered them at the bar for a discussion. Since the children carried on with their lives, the patriarch had the restaurant refurbished, seeming a little cleaner and more modern in terms of décor.
"Alright, family meeting, ya schmucks!" Herb came from downstairs, finding the quadruplets and Sage sitting at the bar. "I know we haven't had one in... a long-ass time, but now's the time to handle business again."
"This meeting better not take long, dad, I gotta meet my girl for lunch soon." Dill spat.
"Same here." Clove added with a raised pointer finger.
"Me too." Mint also said.
"Me three, er... four. Whatever." Basil chimed in as well.
"Gah, typical, typical. Even as grown men, you gotta flake on your dad. What about you, pumpkin? You gotta meet your hubby for lunch too?" Herb looked at his daughter, putting away her phone as she sent a text.
"I told you, he's just my boyfriend, dad. ...and to be honest, I don't think I can call him that much longer." the rosy-cheeked woman sighed.
"Need us to pound him, sis?" Clove offered, cracking his knuckles with his brothers. "No harm in showing our future bro-in-law a thing or two about respect."
"No one's gonna pound anyone besides me if you keep testing my patience!" the restaurant owner growled.
"Sorry, dad." the brothers and Sage mumbled in shame.
"Anywho, here's why I called ya here. As you know, I'm not getting any younger and I can't keep running The Rice Bowl alone, so one of you's gotta be the new owner of the joint. Well, co-owner, technically."
"And it's obvious that you're gonna give to me, right, dad?" Basil grinned at his father, looking as disgruntled as ever.
"Dad, you already forgot? You said you were gonna let me own the restaurant when I'm older and now that I am..."
"Still don't know what you're rambling about and I don't care."
"But, dad, you-"
"Cram it, ya putz! Here's how we're gonna decide who'll be the new owner. First one to have a kid gets to run it with me," Herb explained, not fazed by the puzzled looks on his children's faces. "We clear? All you gotta do is get your girl pregnant or get pregnant in Sage's case, and boom! Ownership status acquired."
"That's seriously it?" Dill asked.
"Dad, why not just give it to Bas since he wants it so badly? No one else wants to keep working at The Rice Bowl other than him... and maybe Sage." Mint shrugged as Sage scowled at her brother's assumption.
"Are you kidding me? I'm already working as a waitress part-time and on top of that, I'm working on my first novel! I can't be bothered to do that while working full-time!" the bluenette argued with her brothers, ignoring the reddening face of their father.
"Everybody, SHUT UP!" Herb roared to ceiling, silencing his children. "Okay, I get it, you're all busy doing your own thing and that's cool. Instead of fighting over it like a couple of toddlers, how 'bout we wait 'til someone has a kid and we'll work out the details from there. Capisce?"
"Capisce, dad." the children nodded.
"Good, you're dismissed. Except for you, Basil, and stop your whimpering."
Returning home to her apartment, Sage closed the door behind her and glowered at her phone.
"Come on, you idiot, I know you have your eyes glued to your phone at all times, don't pretend you're not getting my texts."
Shuffling to the bathroom, the bluenette sighed once more and picked up a small, white cylinder by the sink. Staring at one of the ends for a moment, she sucked her teeth and shook her head.
"...looks like you're really in for a surprise."
"Dude, I am SO glad you're not with that scumbag anymore. Guy was the epitome of a dirtbag, the father of all dirtbags!" Colby spoke.
"No kidding. Could you believe he wanted to get back with me as soon as he found out I had two best-selling books?" Sage asked, popping another chocolate pretzel in her mouth.
"That's the thing with guys like him, they treat ya like dirt when you're trying to make ends meet, but the second you get your big break, they wanna be your best friend."
"Preach... enough about him and his scumbaggery, how did you find out you were going to be a dad?"
"Man, I remember that like it was yesterday..."
"Can you just tell me instead of getting all cheesy, you dork?"
"Ey, you can't tell the Cheese Curry King to not get cheesy! It's my job! My claim to fame!" the food-fighting master chirped as his friend laughed.
"Oh, right, how could I forget? Just shut up and tell me." the rosy-cheeked woman demanded again.
"This has been a close Grand Final bout here, it can be anyone's game!" a commentator spoke, during an intense match between Colby and another opponent.
"Indeed, Chip. Both competitors have used all their moves at least once. All it takes is one well-executed finisher to claim victory and for the crowd favorite, Colby, it won't be just another win for him. Right, Baker?" another commentator added.
"That's correct. If our King of Curry takes this, it would also mean securing his 150th tournament win. But it's like you said, he has to be smart about how he lands his finisher."
The blond man charged up to his opponent with a battle cry, barely dodging a grab attempt as he rolled on his left side. He then swept his ankles and snatched them, spinning on his heels while hurling his opponent around.
"Rrrrragh!" Colby snarled again, channeling his ki that spread onto his opponent like burning flames. "Cheese Curry... Burnado!"
Tossing his flame-covered opponent to the wall with a trail of ash, Colby stumbled a bit on his feet and smirked. The crowd's shouts and cheers were more than enough to tell him he emerged victorious.
"And another one bites the ash."
"He's done it! He's done it! Victory has been served to this man 150 times! Everyone give it up for your King Crab Cup champion, Colby, the King of Curry!" Chip exclaimed over the crowd chanting Colby's name in the background.
"Another remarkable performance from the fiery contender, he's come a long way from starting out as a junior division food fighter and it's all paid off tonight!" Baker added with the food-fighting master happily claiming the gold crab-shaped trophy from the referee.
Shortly after his speech, Colby headed to his room with his entourage, a group of burly men in activewear similar to his outfit.
"Whoo, I feel like a new man!" the blond shouted, still holding his trophy. "So many years later and I finally got 150 victories?! Guys, tell me I'm not dreaming here! This sounds too good to be true!"
"Nah, you really won 'em, Colb. Won 'em fair and square." one male spoke with a nod.
"So, what's the plan now? Gonna shoot for 200? 500?" asked another male.
"Or hell, a thousand?" asked one more with a scoffing chuckle.
"Nope, think I'm gonna hang up my gloves and retire..." Colby sighed, staring at his frozen entourage, failing to hide a few snickers with his mouth covered. "Aaaah, I'm just messing with y'all! Heck yeah, I'm gonna shoot for more! Ya can't stop this food-fighting master!"
"Tch, good 'cause-"
All of a sudden, an 80s rock song sounded from Colby's phone, resting in his pants pocket.
"Ah, crud, that must be Marcella. Promised her I'd be back in time for dinner, girl's gonna kill me when I get home. You guys go on without me, I'll meet you there in a few. ..oh, and one of you polish this for me, want it so shiny I can see my money-maker in it." the blond handed one of the burly men his gold trophy.
"Got it, Colb, we'll see ya." the male who received the trophy nodded.
"Yeah, and don't get grilled too bad by your girl." another male added.
"Can't guarantee that!" Colby hollered as his entourage left, answering his phone. "Hola, honey! Now, before you go through with your plans to gut me like a fish, I just wanna say... oh, you saw it? Heh, nice and let me tell ya, it wasn't no easy feat. Pulling off that sneak attack with... wait, what's going on? What is it? You okay? ...I'm gonna be... hold the fridge, I'm really gonna be a... HOLY CRUD! Oh, sorry for screaming like that, Marci, you know how excited I get. ...yeah, I'm on my way back. Better have a piping hot plate waiting for me, alright? ...muh-mwah, love ya too. Alright, see ya."
Hanging up, Colby slowly slipped his phone back in his pocket and proceeded to walk back to his dressing room, taking deep, soothing breaths. There, he found his entourage chatting, becoming silent when he entered the room. The food-fighting master grabbed the trophy from one of the males and sat down, cradling it awkwardly.
"What the hell? Colby, what are you doing, man?"
"Don't mind me, just practicing until my real kid gets here..." the blond said.
At first, his entourage exchanged confused looks with each other, wondering what he meant. But it soon clicked when they all rushed over to the food fighter and clamored over the wonderful news. Their exuberant pal who possessed the heart of a child was about to become a father.
"I went through so many emotions when I got the news. One minute, I was bouncing off the walls, the next, I was bawling my one eye out, and after that, I started picking names and planning future birthday parties... you just never realize how special it is to have a kid until you find out you're gonna have one." Colby explained with a passive expression.
"At least, you were positive about it. All I could focus on was how grueling a nine-month pregnancy with TWINS would be. If my mom was still around, she'd probably be like, 'Pfft, that's nothing. Try surviving four kids with inside ya and get back to me.' and I would definitely take her word for it." Sage sat back, clasping her hands on her stomach.
"Ditto. After dealing with Marcella and almost a year's worth of vomiting, arguments, and meltdowns, I got a whole new respect for parents. It's one thing to know you're having one, but when you're about to have one..."
"Did I tell you I almost considered getting an abortion?" the bluenette flatly informed, unfazed by Colby's dropped jaw.
"...don't tell me that dirtbag-" the food-fighting master began in a rare, threatening tone.
"No, don't get ahead of yourself... it was my decision, but... after talking things out with dad, I knew I had to repay him by giving him some grandchildren."
"Aw, was about to say. You weren't with him when you had the twins, right?"
"Right. Other than dad and my brothers, Maple was also there to help me get through it and funny enough, she got pregnant around the same time I had the twins."
"Heh heh, nice..."
March 16th, Sage and her family decided to vacation at her birthplace of Toronto, Canada. After spending the last couple of days exploring the sights and sampling the local cuisine, the rosy-cheeked woman found herself in the hospital recuperating from her tiresome birth. Herb and the brothers made sure she had enough water and blankets, taking precaution to not say or do anything to upset their only girl. As another deep breath escaped her lips, Sage shut her eyes and laid back, resting her head on her pillow. Nine months of morning sickness, weird cravings, meltdowns, and back pains finally resulted in bringing her two kids to the world. Her father walked over and gently brushed his calloused fingers against her glistening forehead, smiling warmly at his daughter.
"Really made your papa Herb proud, cupcake," Herb nodded. "My little girl went from being a spunky waitress to a wise, mature mother. Congrats, Sage."
"Thanks, dad..." Sage whispered, keeping her eyes shut.
"I dunno how you did it, sis, but you just gave birth to twins without dying or anything!" Clove beamed.
"The hell's that supposed to mean, Clove? You really expected her to keel over?" Basil stared incredulously at his brother, shaking his head.
"Nah, I'm just saying..."
"Either way, it still proves you're a trooper, Sage." Mint complimented, rubbing his sister's arm.
"Always have been, always will be." Dill added with a smirk.
"Say, is that doc gonna bring those rugrats here anytime soon? Wanna see my grandkids already." the patriarch scowled, shoving his hands in his coat pockets.
"Dad, be patient. It's probably taking them longer since they have twins." Basil assured as the obstetrician and a nurse came in, holding each of the siblings.
"Our apologies for the wait," the physician, an Asian male, spoke, sporting two black eyes for some reason. "Have to tell you, ma'am, you got some pretty lively kids on your hands."
"Heh, tell me about it," Sage chuckled, pointing at the male's bruised face. "Uh, what's with the black eyes?"
"Ah, both twins gave me a wallop after getting them to breathe."
At that, the brothers chuckled while the bluenette covered her mouth, holding in her giggles.
"Wait, you didn't spank 'em, did ya?" Herb questioned.
"Oh, no, sir. We've stopped doing that a long time ago." the physician explained.
"Huh... whether you did or not, ya still deserved it."
"Doctor, I'm terribly sorry-" Sage spoke as the Asian male shook his head and nodded understandingly.
"No, it's quite alright. It's nothing new to me, I'm pretty much used to it."
"Ma'am, your twins are absolutely adorable! You're so lucky to have them! Have you decided on what you'll name them?" the nurse asked, placing one of the twins in the bluenette's arms as the physician did the same with the other.
"Sure have. For the boy, Saffron, and for his sister, Paprika." the rosy-cheeked woman calmly answered, baffling the doctor and the nurse.
"Er, ma'am, not to offend, but you do realize you're naming them after spices, right?" the Asian male spoke.
"And?" Herb scoffed with an offended glare. "We're all named after herbs and spices, it runs in the family. Got a problem with that, doc? Or would you like a broken nose to go with those black eyes?"
"N-No, no, sir, not at all! Saffron and Paprika, it is."
"We'll think of some nicknames for you little cuties, won't we?" Sage cooed at her two children, snuggled in her arms. "Hmm, won't we now?"
"Annnnnd you forgot the part where I came by for a surprise visit! Luckily for us, I went to a charity event over there and happened to be in the neighborhood." Colby smirked as his best friend scoffed and rolled her eyes.
"I still think you bugged dad to tell you where I was. ...and now to talk about your son's birth." Sage said.
"Oh, boy, now that's something I really remember like it was yesterday..."
On June 21st, the shrill, trembling sound of an infant crying filled the air of a hospital room. The obstetrician who delivered the child held up the baby for the Latin woman lying in bed, with an overjoyed Colby by her side grinning from ear to ear.
"Congratulations, it's a boy!" the doctor announced.
"Heck yeah! Whoo, the King of Curry's got an heir to the throne! Yo, doc, you want me to name him now or-" Colby asked.
"Well, I usually wait until the baby's cleaned, but you can name him if you wish."
"Cool, I wanna name him Monterey. Monty, for short. Is that fine with you, sweetheart?"
"Monty... kind of cute, I love the sound of it. Perfect for our beautiful, baby boy." Marcella, a woman with brown wavy hair nodded with a gentle smile.
"Er, Monterey? Like the-" the doctor questioned.
"Yeah, like the cheese. I'm named after Colby Jack cheese, my pops and his bro were named after cheese. Why not keep the cheesy name tradition goin'?" the master-in-training reasoned.
"Okay, Monterey then... I'll just have him cleaned up and he'll be back in no time."
"Isn't that great, dear? You told me so many times you couldn't wait to have kids and now you finally have one!" the Latin woman spoke, holding her boyfriend's hands.
"Yep, and he'll probably be the first of many. Think you can squirt out two or three more kiddos for me, baby?" Colby asked, smacked across the face by his girlfriend. "Ow! Sorry, sorry! Maybe not two or three... I can live with one more kid."
"Tch, you're forgetting that I have to live with them too. Do I need to remind you about all the hell I went through before we got here?"
"Nah, I hear ya... but, hey, our pride and joy has finally arrived! All the more reason to celebrate!"
About a week later, a sudden loss occurred for Colby and his newborn son. Planning for his girlfriend's funeral would commence soon and as much as he didn't want to go through another death, Colby mustered all the strength he had to do it. Lying in bed with his sobbing child on his chest, the blond gently rubbed his back. Just when things were looking up for him, life had to throw a wrench that screwed up everything.
"I know, I know..." Colby spoke softly, kissing his son's forehead. "Gonna miss her too, little guy. I was really hoping you'd grow up with both your parents, unlike me... you deserve to have a better childhood than I ever did. ...it's just gonna be the two of us from now on, Mont, and you don't have to worry about me leaving 'cause I'll always be here. ...from the moment you wake up to the time you hit the sack, I'll always have your back, bud."
"Ah, that's right, I forgot she passed away after Monty was born... sorry about your loss, Colby." Sage frowned as Colby gave her a nonchalant wave.
"Eh, it's no biggie. Sucks she had to go so soon, but I gotta keep moving forward. If I don't, I wouldn't be the super awesome dad I am." the spiky-haired male smirked.
"If you say so, you dork. Speaking of Monty, did you make plans for his birthday coming up?"
"Sure did, I'll tell ya about 'em later. Bud's probably making himself a bedtime snack and spying on us as we speak..."
"Pfft, like he'd do that."
"Like he WOULDN'T do that, are you kidding me?! With his mondo-sized brain?!"
"Okay, I see your point. Well, I think I'm gonna call it... getting pretty late." the rosy-cheeked woman yawned as her best friend did the same.
"Same here... what time is it, like midnight or something?" the food-fighting master asked.
"Probably, the twins might be getting ready for bed too... er, I know Rika is but not sure about Ronnie. Hard to believe how much sugar that boy puts away in a day."
"Hey, like mother like son."
"Aw, screw off, I'm not THAT big of a sweets person."
"Sure you're not. Alrighty, I'll text ya tomorrow morning about Mont's b-day. Tell ya the twins their Uncle Colby said good night."
"Only if you tell Monty I said good night too."
"Done deal, bestie. Welp, see ya later. Nighty night, Sage."
"Night, you dweeb."
"I know you are but what I am?" Colby teased, sticking out his tongue as the bluenette laughed, ending the video chat.
Sighing to herself again, Sage shut down her laptop and scooted away from her desk, not expecting a dark blue blur tackling her onto the floor.
"Aaagh!" the rosy-cheeked woman yelped, groaning as she fixed her eyes on a grinning young boy with blue-green eyes and tousled, midnight blue hair.
"Got ya again, mama! Really, you gotta stop making it so easy to sneak up on ya!" the boy chirped, peeling himself off his mother before helping her with her chair.
"Well, it would be nice if you bothered to warn me before you do your patented tackle hugs." Sage chuckled, brushing herself off. Seating herself in her chair, she discovered a girl about the same age as the boy. Like him, she had blue-green eyes and midnight-blue hair, but it came down to her back rather than her shoulders.
"Please, you know it's never gonna happen since Ron loves surprises." the girl spoke, leaning by the door with folded arms.
"Rika's right, it wouldn't be Ronnie without the surprises! C'mon, mama, you shouldn't be news to ya!" the perky boy added.
"Shame on me for forgetting," Sage snarked, playfully rolling her eyes. "Other than nearly breaking my spine, what do you need? Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"We were about to, but... we wanted you to tuck us in and tell us a bedtime story!"
"...you can't be serious."
"Mom, you're forgetting it's Ronnie we're talking about. He never jokes about stuff like this." the young girl sneered.
"True, but why? You're both fourteen and got plenty of books in your room, why not read something together?" the rosy-cheeked woman suggested.
"Because it's summer vacation and we already read a bunch in school. Plus, it would be nice to have you read us something for old times' sake."
"Old times' sake, old times' sake!" Ronnie chanted, pumping his fists.
"Alright, I guess one bedtime story couldn't hurt..." Sage sighed, standing from her chair with reluctance.
"But after that, you're reading your own bedtime stories, got it?"
"Yes, mom." Rika nodded, leaving the room.
"Got it, mama! Let's go, let's go, let's go!" the feathery-haired boy yanked his mother's arm and dragged her to him and his sister's room.
Meanwhile, Colby left his room and stepped over to the living room, finding a boy with dirty-blond spiky hair snoozing on the couch. Chuckling to himself, he grabbed the wool blanket on the headrest and laid it on the boy, doing little to disturb him.
"Rest easy, my soon-to-be King of Curry."