“'Cause I see you feeling down,
I'll be trying to calm and fade it,
But you don't wanna turn around,
Teenage is so complicated.” –Aimee B.’s “Light Your Heart Up”
Chapter Eight: The Friend’s Tale
After a day of shopping and wandering around the city, which ended with Miya taking what seemed like a million photos of the sunset along the bay, we all returned to the suite to rest and relax away the day’s efforts. I felt like I owed Maiko a call, so before Mr. Nakai took his telescope outside, I headed out onto the balcony to call her.
Nestled well within the suburbs, a good distance from the outlying slums, it was relatively quiet outside. The city noise was far away, and the activity of the surrounding area a dull murmur. The heat of the day had subsided somewhat, though it was still oppressively humid. I sat down on the balcony floor against the wall, folding my knees up to my chest so I could let the heat of the concrete seep into my feet. It was a soothing feeling, and one of the reasons I preferred to go barefoot, besides simple habit.
When my feet were nice and warm and the rest of me covered in a sheen of sweat –something I had become accustomed to in Manila- I pulled out my phone and called my friend. It rang once before clicking, and Maiko’s weary but perky voice rang out.
“Hey, Muscles,” Maiko greeted, “You remembered me!”
“Of course I did,” I stated, “Did I call at a bad time?”
“No, your timing’s great, actually. I’m kinda bored right now. I actually started picking my toes for the second time today.”
“Keeping busy in Tokyo, then.”
“I try. I mean it’s the city, not much else to say. But enough about me, how’s Manila? Eat anything weird yet? See any cool sights? Did you buy me a present?”
“Yes, yes, and yes,” I replied. Rolling my eyes at her exuberance, I remarked, “You’re acting like one of the kids I’m with.”
“Oh yeah, what’re these family friends like? They got kids?”
“Yeah,” I replied; I didn’t mind talking about them as long as it was as abstract as possible, “One pair just have a four year-old son, and the other family have two girls and a boy.”
“Is he cute?”
I wrinkled my nose, “He’s eleven
“That doesn’t answer the question, you know, but okay. What’re the girls like?”
“Well,” I paused, unsure if I wanted to tell her more. There really wasn’t any harm in doing so, though, so I continued, “the older one’s ten and kind of a brat, but her heart’s in the right place, and the younger one is five and… weird.”
“She has ADD and likes to explore closets.”
“Exactly. She’s really sweet though, and definitely doesn’t think like a five year-old.”
“Sounds like you got some good company,” Maiko stated, “Now what’s the boy like?”
I sighed and slumped against the wall, “Shy, quiet, tends to pop up unnoticed,” I replied. Realizing the connection I hadn’t really noticed until I verbalized it, I ended up blurting out, “He’s a lot like the Director, actually. I mean Aunt Hana. Shit….”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Maiko chirped, grabbing the hook I had accidently set out and seizing it, “Did you just say Director Aunt Hana? Is this a Hana Hana, or a Hanako Hana?”
I sighed, and, since the cat was out of the bag, replied, “Hanako.”
“…Please tell me you’re not traveling with Hanako Nakai, the renowned author and member of the Yamaku Foundation Board of Directors.”
To have connected those dots and come up with the right answer was a bit of a logical leap, sure, but Maiko was a member of the literature club, and that meant a slightly unorthodox thinking process. Especially since Mrs. Nakai was usually very popular with the literature club, depending on membership.
Now faced with the possibility of revealing more of my life or lying to my best friend, I suppressed a sigh and told her the truth.
“Yes, I’m travelling with the Nakai’s and their old friends from Yamaku, the Setou’s.”
“Setou? That crazy conspiracy writer?”
“He’s not crazy,” I snapped.
“If you say so. Wait, you know Mrs. Nakai! Crap, I need to meet her so she can sign all my books!”
I raised an eyebrow as I asked, “Aren’t they all signed already?”
“Not all of them, especially not the first editions. Wait, she’s a Director, she’ll be on campus sooner or later. Or I can get the club Prez to ask her to come to a meeting. Okay, crisis averted.”
“I’m relieved,” I quipped.
“Anyway, the boy, you said he’s like Mrs. Nakai, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, relieved that Maiko wasn’t asking why or how I knew one of the Directors so personally, “he actually seems kinda skittish around me. Get’s flustered when we talk, but at the same time seems to wanna play chess with me a lot.”
“It’s probably nothing; he’s probably just nervous around girls.”
“He has two sisters.”
Maiko sighed, and I could practically see her roll her eyes as she explained, “Sisters don’t count. Anyway, it sounds like you’re having fun down there.”
“I am, although the motorcycle ride with Mrs. Nakai… fuck it, Aunt Hana,” she told me to call her that, so I might as well start saying it, “was a little more excitement then I like.”
“…You got to ride on a motorcycle with Mrs. Nakai? And you get to call her Aunt Hana! I am officially jealous of you now.”
I smirked and rolled my eyes, “Maybe the present I got you will salve your jealousy.”
“Probably. What’re you doing tomorrow?”
“Ocean Park. Apparently we’re close-ish to a massive aquarium, so we’ll be spending most of the day there.”
“Sounds kinda cool, I guess. What do you plan to see there?”
I shrugged despite the futility of the gesture, “Fish, I guess.”
“Hey, I’m new at this.”
“…Taking vacations,” I replied.
“Ah, gotcha,” Maiko stated, “Sounds like you’re getting the hang of it, though. You’re using sunscreen, right?”
I rolled my eyes, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Good; I seriously doubt your skin is SP-30.”
I smirked lightly at the remark about my skin tone. It was something I was a bit self conscious about, but was thankfully enough of a non-issue to not bother me too much.
“Speaking of vacations,” I said, feeling like I had been asked enough questions, “how’s yours been so far?”
“Can’t complain. Went shopping with my Mom, hung out with some old friends around town, nothing too exciting, but it’s definitely a nice change of pace –those dorms are way too small.”
“They don’t seem that small,” I remarked.
“To each their own; guess one of the perks of the suburbs is we have a bit more room than the city goers. Speaking of which, what’s Manila like? I heard it’s huge.”
“Well, yeah,” so much for me not getting asked more questions, “It’s a really old city after all, although today was the first day I had a chance to really experience it.”
I spent a while describing the city and resort to Maiko, until evening had given way to night and mosquitoes started to buzz around me. One of them got near enough to the receiver for Maiko to ask what it was.
“Mosquitoes,” I replied, “They never bite me, though.”
“Lucky. Wow, I just realized what time it is. I better let you go so you can get to bed and get up to swim.”
“Good idea. Sorry if your bill’s high this month, by the way.”
“Hey, I’d be upset if you didn’t
call me. Which you better do again before you leave.”
“I will,” I promised, “See you.”
I hung up the phone and shoved it into my pocket while I heaved myself up. Now thoroughly covered in a layer of sweat and surrounded by mosquitoes, I moved to open the door just as Mr. Nakai… Uncle Hisao, opened it a crack, holding what looked like a cup with a plate over it. He lifted the plate and a mosquito buzzed off to join its fellows. Before any others could infiltrate the suite he shut the door again, giving me a sheepish grimace to show he had seen me. I nodded and quickly cracked the door open to slide past before shutting it behind me.
“Sorry about that,” Uncle Hisao said, “Didn’t wanna risk letting more in.”
“I understand,” I stated, “although it seems like a lot of trouble for a little insect.”
Uncle Hisao sighed and glanced behind him, where Miya and Aunt Hana were playing chess at the dining room table, “It does, doesn’t it?”
Without looking up from her game, Aunt Hana asked, “did you say something, dear?”
“Nope,” Uncle Hisao replied, “Anyway, it’s getting late, so if you wanted to hit the pool you might wanna go to bed soon.”
“Unless you wanna play a game of chess,” Akio called from the living room area.
“Or checkers!” Satomi called from the bedroom.
“You sound awfully awake for someone who should be asleep,” Aunt Hana remarked.
“She’s talking in her sleep,” Refia interjected from the bedroom.
“More like shouting,” Miya mused.
“Go to bed!” Uncle Hisao snapped.
“I’ll take care of it, if that’s alright,” I said.
Uncle Hisao nodded and started rubbing his temples with his right hand.
“Thank you,” Aunt Hana said, then added to Miya, “Check.”
I smirked and left the adults and Akio to go deal with Satomi and Refia. It was weird thinking of these people as family, but it also made sense; they took me in and invited me into their lives, cared about me, helped me… last I checked, that’s what a family did.
That and make sure certain children went to sleep when they were supposed to.
Being able to put Satomi in a sleeper hold will probably help with that.
One of the fun things about being in a state that’s half swamp is the mosquitoes. By “fun” I mean “BURN ALL THE STAGNANT POOLS” and by “half swamp” I mean “we drained most of them for condos.”
Still a very wet state. Not Minnesota wet, but close (plus we have salmon. And perch. Lake perch. You know, ‘cuz of the lakes.)