I'm back. Maybe.
Chapter 16: Trina, a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter
“That’ll be 1700 yen, please.”
I ask her to repeat herself, and sure enough, I’m paying what amounts to 17 U.S dollars to wrap a fucking book. I could have done it myself, really, but my wrapping skills are… rusty.
A little bad.
With clenched teeth, I hand over the money and the aforementioned book and hastily exit the gift shop before I can change my mind. I knew going the extra mile to apologize to Suzu would require sacrifices. I guess I should just be thankful that those sacrifices are strictly monetary. For now.
The day is still young, and the mall is probably as barren as it’s ever going to be. I might as well enjoy myself. I haven’t gone clothes shopping in a while, after all, and looking fresh for the festival couldn't hurt.
I begin to grow nostalgic as I traverse the scattered groups of mall rats.
I was here on my very first day of school, when I was just a fresh-faced, “aw shucks” goody-two shoes. A far cry from the hardened man I am today. Maybe I should buy an eye patch while I’m here.
Either way, it’s nice discovering new stores that I didn’t notice the first time I was here.
There’s a pho diner, an “authentic” French handbag store, and weirdly enough, a Christmas shop playing Silver and Gold
from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
on a loop. I’ll have to tell my dad about that one; he loves that movie.
My hunger aroused from the smell of pho, but not having enough money for it, I stop at the food court and check my messages.
When I returned to class on Monday, I was pretty surprised to see Suzu there. Some part of me expected her to have gone into self-imposed isolation, perhaps to satisfy some egotistical idea that she’s as upset about our pseudo-breakup just as much I am. But she isn't. At least, she doesn't appear to be.
We didn’t speak, but she gave me a courteous nod and said goodbye when classes were over for the day. Molly’s piteous stares and Miki’s “fix-it now” look confirmed my suspicions that Suzu had told them about what happened on our date.
It wasn't until after I got back home that I realized I could have apologized right then and there and be done with it. So, really, this mall trip is just as much a reason to blow off some steam as it is to get Suzu’s gift nicely wrapped.
The little envelope on my phone is devoid of any numbers, so I can safely assume no one’s tried to get at me. However, I do have a missed call.
I double check the number to see if my phone hasn't glitched out.
Nervously, I press the return call button and bring the phone to my ear.
The voice of my fashionista cousin, Trina, rings through my ears and brings me right back to memories of my uncle’s house parties in Austin. The last time I saw her was about four months before my accident and subsequent departure to Japan. She wasn’t able to make it in those couple months, being on holiday in… well, pretty much anywhere that catered to wealthy American twenty-somethings. Still, hearing from her is a nice treat.
“Hey, Trina! I haven’t talked to you in a while! How’s New Delhi?”
On the other end, I can hear my cousin’s breathless giggling. “A─mazing! I’ve never felt so in touch with our Asian roots!”
“Wrong Asian, but, sure, alright. I’ve got a friend from there, she says it’s a beautiful place”
“It so is! They’ve got this outdoor mall with a this huuuge turquoise fountain in the center, and it’s so incredibly pretty! It even has a bunch of little lights that turn on at night─”
She rambles on for a minute or so more. I was talking about India’s historical buildings, but I should have foreseen Trina caring more about the fancy VFX shows at the malls.
“Anyway, how’s Japan treating you? Can you understand anyone there?”
“Unlike you, I paid attention when we were getting our Japanese lessons,” I answer back.
“I learned all the important words, so that’s what matters, right?”
“‘Boutique’ is not an important word.”
“Well, that all depends on where you are, now doesn’t it? Aaaanyway, how are things at school?”
“Pretty good, I guess. I’m not failing, I mean, so that’s a plus.”
“You were an honor student back home, of course you’re not going to fail! Just do whatever it is you were doing, and you’ll do fine. You’ll probably do a lot better than I did, anyway…”
“I don’t know if you can replicate sheer dumb luck, especially in a place like Yamaku,” I respond. “You’re probably right about me doing better than you, though.”
“Stop being mean, you jerk! I’m trying to be your older cousin mentor and you’re making fun of me!”
“You know I love you, Trina.”
“I love you too! Thaaat’s why I’m making plans right now to come and visit you!”
“Whoah, whoah, what?”
“Yeah, we’ve been planning a trip up there for a while now! We were going to make it a surprise, but we figured that it’d be rude to not give you a heads up.”
“The family, duh! We’re all super excited to see you!”
“Trina, I don’t know, there’ a lot going on right─”
“You better not tell me to not come over there! First of all, I’d have to be the one to relay the news to the rest of the family, and that’s going to kill all the positive chi I’ve built up with Fabian!”
“Fabian? Your boyfriend?”
“No, my yoga instructor. Stop trying to change the subject! We’re coming down there to visit you, and you better be happy about it!”
It was always hard to tell if she was legitimately angry. Her ability to bounce between cheerful and upset at the drop of a dime has been a great source of confusion to pretty much every male member of my family. The women seem to understand it much better than us.
“Fine,” I say, defeated. “Just promise me that you’ll call a few days in advance so I can get ready?”
“Anything for my baby cousin! I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see you again! Love you lots!”
“Love you too, Trina. Bye.”
I let out a sigh as the call ends, munching on a french fry in defeat. Make that a handful of french fries, actually. One isn’t enough to sufficiently wallow. Also I’m fat.
I guess I should be happy that she warned me at all. I can’t even count the number of times she would barge in to my parents’ home when I was younger, her jet black hair tied up in whatever style she was “feeling” that week. She owned maybe two outfits out of two hundred that covered more than 60% of her body. It completely shot my day having to listen to my friends’ colorful colloquialisms about how hot she was. Eventually we had to go elsewhere for our Tony Hawk marathons.
So, now I have one more thing to worry about. Alright. That’s what being an adult’s all about, right? Better to get used to it now or risk having it as an ugly surprise when my biological clock starts to tick.
I still have about twenty minutes to burn before my book’s ready. Seems like an exorbitant amount of time to put paper on a book, but I’m not in the gift wrapping business, so maybe I just don’t understand.
A vibrating in my pocket stops me from exploring the intricacies of the gift wrapping monopoly. Probably for the best, it sounds really bloody.
It’s not Trina this time, thank goodness.
“I saw you walking around earlier. I’m here by myself today. Want to hang out for a bit? ”
Funny, I didn’t picture Molly to be the type of person to be at the mall by herself. Then again, it’s kind of silly to think that she’s a closeted bookworm 24/7. I’m sure she has a life just like everyone else.
“Sure, that sounds like fun. Where do you want to meet?”
“Emerald Acoustic. It’s on the 2nd floor, by the carousel.”
Oh, wow. I didn’t even know they had a carousel. Very Western.
Following her instructions, I arrive at the given destination, a record store, in little time. It’s a small place, so I spot Molly fairly fast, flipping through a small collection of vinyl records.
“You don’t see many of these places around anymore,” I say, walking up beside her.
“It’s a shame,” Molly responds, shaking her head.
“I didn’t take you to be a music aficionado.”
“I’m not, really, but my dad definitely is,” she smiles. “He insisted that I should find a good record store while I’m down here in Japan.”
“What’s he into?”
She lingers on a Buddy Holly record and shrugs.
“Lots of stuff, I guess. He’s really into old American music. Motown, things like that.”
I chuckle at the thought of some old Indian dude getting down to Teena Marie.
“Maybe you should buy him a record,” I suggest. “I’m sure he’d like that.”
She smiles sadly and pulls out the linings of her empty pockets. “I would if I could, but I think introducing him to the magic of Pandora would be a better solution overall.”
“You make a good point,” I admit. “Still, there’s just something so vintage about the needle going down against the grooves. It’s like audio magic, you know?”
“You’re such a hipster it hurts
“Hey, I’m nothing like those pretentious douchebags! Just because I happen to respect classic forms of musical enjoyment─”
“That’s exactly what a hipster would say.”
She’s on a roll. A roll which both agitates me and causes me to respect her.
“Well, I really like the modern stuff too, so… yeah.”
“Oh, trust me, I’ve heard that obnoxious hip hop you love so much. It gives me a migraine.”
“‘Donald Glover is equally talented as a musician and a comedian’ is what I’ll pretend you just said.”
She scoffs and continues her so-far vain search for the right music. I follow her around the store, occasionally checking my phone or offering some advice as to what she should look for. I don't know what her threshold for annoyance is, but I hope I’m not pushing it.
She’ll probably want some recommendations for─
“What happened with you and Suzu?”
Or, yeah, that. That makes more sense…
“Did she not tell you?”
“Oh, no, she did, it’s just... I don’t think Suzu is the type of person to spin things, but I’d like to know both sides of what happened.”
That’s pretty admirable of her. Sighing lightly, I lower my voice to answer her. I doubt anyone else here gives a shit about us, but it makes me a little more comfortable.
“I… I kind of accused her of still liking her old boyfriend. Well, he wasn’t technically her boyfriend, and I don’t think she really liked him… well, actually, yeah, I think she did, that’s why she got mad. Are you still following?”
“Of course. Relationships are… strange, huh?”
I nod solemnly. Molly smiles reassuringly and hands me a lollipop from her pocket. It’s so out of the blue I can’t help but chuckle. I think that was her plan.
“That’s pretty much what Suzu told us,” she continues.
“What exactly did she say to you?” I ask, curiosity piqued.
Molly looks unsure. “I don’t know, I think that’s pretty private.”
“We’re boyfriend and girlfriend… hopefully. She would have told me anyway!”
“Then why not ask her when the time comes?”
“Please, Molly! Gossip for me!”
I grab her by the shoulders and give her a light shake. Her braids bounce around her surprised face.
“Alright, alright, jeez!”
She peers around for a few seconds before leading me outside to a bench, where an older couple conveniently decides to stand up and leave.
“She doesn’t want to break up with you,” she says almost as soon as we sit down.
“That’s good to hear.”
“‘Good to hear’? That’s it?! You should be ecstatic!”
“I-I am happy! I assumed that we weren’t broken up, just, you know, on a little break.”
Molly calms down a bit. She appears excited to finally get whatever Suzu said to her off of her chest, despite her previous objections.
“She did kind of… call you an asshole. I mean, not a major asshole, just that that’s how you came off.”
I nod slowly. “I can’t disagree. I’ve probably called myself an asshole more times than she has in these last few days.”
“More specifically, she thinks that you’re dwelling too much on something that happened in the past. And… she can’t move on if you don’t.”
I look up at her.
“So… she really does…?”
“Like him? I couldn’t tell you that. Even if I knew.”
I understand her reluctance. I don’t like it, but I understand it.
“Is Miki mad at me?” I ask, almost as an afterthought.
“She’s not happy, but I think that has more to do with the whole situation than with just you… we really do want you two to be happy together, though. I know Miki and I joke around about you guys a lot, but we do care. You’re our friends, you know?”
I smile. “Thanks, Molly. I feel the same way. I like the whole dynamic we have here. I don’t want anything to change.”
A look of genuine relief washes over Molly’s features.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear! If you need my help, just tell me what I need to do.”
“No offense, but this is really something that I should take care of myself.”
She nods understandingly, albeit a tad disappointed.
“Anyway, I should run back down to the gift shop. I bought a book for Suzu, and I wanted to get it wrapped. Want to come with me?”
“Sure!” she exclaims, and follows me off of the bench and back towards the front of the mall. She looks appropriately mortified when I tell her what I paid to have my present wrapped.
The two of us deciding that we've had our fill of the mall, Molly and I head towards the bus stop
I tell her about my fateful conversation with Trina on the way there. She's not as annoyed as I thought she'd be at my cousin's touristy attitude towards her homeland. In fact, she seems gidddy at the thought of meeting even more of the Fukui clan. I imagine her tune will change pretty quickly after any actual meetings occur.
Finally, the buss arrives and we climb on board, remaining quiet until we've left the downtown area.
I look over to Molly in the next seat, texting away on her phone (she mentioned something about helping a student with her algebra homework.) Amidst all the drama and mystery surround Suzu, I never took the opportunity to really delve deep into the two other girls I call my friends. That sounds pretty suggestive, in hindsight, but the point stands. Aside from some of the obvious details, I feel as though I haven’t taken the time to get to really know Molly and Miki as much as I should.
“Hmm?” she asks. It’s funny, but I never noticed how cute she looks when she’s giving you a questioning look.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, but I just now realized that we haven’t really… gotten to know each other very well, you know?”
She looks a bit taken aback, and for a second I think she may have taken my statement completely the wrong way. Before I can blubber and make myself look like a bigger dumbass, she giggles.
“I think we know each other pretty well, don’t you?” she asks with a smile.
I shrug. “To a certain extent, yeah. But, we haven’t really talked too much about our personal lives. Home, family, our old schools, things like that.”
Nodding in understanding, she gazes forward towards the bus drivers seat. She still has a smile on her face, but it’s more wistful than playful at this point.
“Well, I was born in New Delhi, but you already knew that. Fairly educated, not to sound too conceited. But, we did live a very comfortable life, especially compared to other people around there.”
I remember reading about the inequality gap that exists in India. This is the first time I’ve ever met someone with first-hand experience on the topic, and it’s pretty fascinating.
“‘We’ being you, and your parents?”
“Yes…well, no, just my dad. Amma
… my mom, she died when I was young.”
I nod solemnly stare down at my feet.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
She dismissively shakes her head .
“You have nothing to be sorry for. The thing is, I almost died along with her. But, I managed to pull through… for a while. Then I got sick. Very sick. And that’s how I lost these.”
The way she kicks her legs with an almost carefree attitude tightens my stomach in a morbid knot.
“What about you?” she asks.
I chuckle darkly.
“Wild parties, drinking, falling off a cliff, nearly tearing my eye from my socket, spending a good month in the hospital, having your parents begin to believe you’re suicidal and losing whatever trust your family had in you to operate as a normal human being. Fun stuff.”
“I… see. This conversation’s certainly taken a turn for the morbid, hasn’t it?”
“You started it,” I tease.
Molly flicks me on my forearm and grins.
I snicker and continue. “So, before I bother asking, is Miki’s story one that would totally wreck my psyche and sense of childhood innocence?”
“Probably,” Molly nods. “But I’m sure if you ask nicely, she’ll leave out all the gory details.”
Molly sighs sadly. “No, she won’t.”
A bump in the road coincides nicely with our bringing up Miki.
“Actually,” Molly continues. “It has a few very sweet parts, if you can believe it.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I tell her. “But Miki’s like some transcript from an ancient civilization. It’s hard as shit to read her, or even know where she’s headed. Like, one second you have something meaningful, then boom, sex joke. Honestly, she’s the complete opposite of what I envisioned from a Japanese teenage girl.”
Molly counters, amused at my explanation, “I don’t know, I’d say she’s more like some fan fiction you would read on the internet. Very easy.”
“Well, you would know if she were easy or not, wouldn't you?”
Molly gasps and hits me in the solar plexus. It actually hurts, surprisingly enough. Miki might be giving her lessons.
“I meant to read, you freak!”
I smile softly and rub my pained midsection, while Molly pouts all the way back home.