Author Archives: isabellestmike

Chapter 12 – A Night Out

I stretched my arms behind me before leaning over my desk to look out the window. Sunlight shone brightly into the common room of our apartment, creating ribbons that seemed to paint the air. Demetri yawned and shifted slightly where he lay in a patch of warm light. “You know, when you look like that, it makes my fingers twitch to pet your belly,” I told him.

He looked at me through barely silted eyes. “Try it and see how sharp my claws really are.”

“Well you’re certainly cranky when your only job is being snarky and bossing me around,” I grumbled to my sketches.

“You’re wrong.”

“About what?”

“My job. I also now boss Yuki around,” he said, a hint of triumph in his voice.

I rolled my eyes and picked my pencil back up. As I started to lay more detail into my main character’s clothing, Demetri jumped up to sit on my desk. “I thought your brother was the artist,” he remarked, lazily surveying my work, “but you seem equally skilled.”

“I used to do all my own sketch work, but Nate enjoyed it and wanted something to do together with me. I told him that if he wanted to help, my readers shouldn’t be able to tell our panels apart.” I added shading into a corner of a night scene.

“How far along are you?”

“Much to my editor’s joy, I am ahead of schedule. I’m used to doing this while working a full time, busy job. Having the time to really devote to it has given me a chance to get ahead on my work.” I couldn’t help but smile when I remembered the reaction of my editor as I handed in my full manuscript so early.

Suddenly I heard the sound of my tablet ringing from across the room. I started to get up, but Demetri jumped off the desk and beelined for it. “It’s for me!”

“Hey, when did I give you permission to use my stuff?” I barked after him, pushing out of the chair to see what sort of calls a talking cat received.

Demetri tapped at the screen with his paw until it glowed to life. A woman with hair so dark it almost looked blue stared back at us. Her commanding tone matched her no-nonsense expression. “Agent Demetri, status report.”

“Training is moving along nicely. I think the Guardians will be ready for a field mission by the end of the month, Commander.”

“We received intel that Jordan faced off with a Romeo class. Her injuries were minor. How is her recovery?” I reached up and touched the now faded bruise on my neck.

Before Demetri could answer, I cut in. “Uh, hi… Commander? I’m just fine. The creature was a Romeo class? I would have guessed it to be much bigger and scarier than that.” I laughed uncomfortably.

The Commander eyed me before clearing her throat. “Yes, well, any creature can seem bigger or more dangerous when it is in the process of preparing to eat you.”

“Thank you for allowing Yuki to come and train with me. He was a huge help that night. I’m not sure what I would have done without him,” I continued.

The commander and Demetri exchanged looks before she addressed me again. “Train hard, Jordan. Missions are only going to get harder.”

“Yes ma’am,” I answered with a nod.

She and Demetri continued to talk about a number of things I didn’t entirely understand, so I gave up listening and returned to my work. At the end of their conversation, Demetri made his way back over to me and jumped into my lap. He glared up at me with angry eyes. “And who gave you permission to take over my call with the Commander?”

“Who gave you permission to use my stuff?”

Demetri grumbled under his breath. “Next time wait for me to give the okay.”

“Fine,” I said with a sigh, pushing him off my lap. The sounds of beeping on the front door caught my attention just before it swung open and Yuki stepped in. “Hey stranger, how was work?” I asked.

He kicked off his shoes as he stepped into the apartment. “It went. The boss tried very hard to convince me to go out drinking tonight.”

“How did you get out of it?” I asked, turning back to my desk.

Yuki waltzed over to me and leaned on the desk, swinging my chair so I would face him. “That’s easy. I insisted the little lady waiting at home for me would be opposed since I had ignored her all week long.”

I processed what he was saying and without a single warning, gave him a hard shove. He slid sideways off the desk and landed on the floor with a loud thud. “You idiot! They’ll all think we’re together now.”

He shrugged and shifted on the floor to rub his hip. “So?”

So?!?” I took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of my nose. “That’s how rumors spread! Besides, Casanova, if everyone thinks we are together, then how are you going to fill your quota of girls to flirt with?”

Yuki gave me a horrified look. “Just how much of a womanizer do you think I am?”

“Your mother is constantly showing my mother pictures of you with a new girlfriend.”

Yuki laughed. “Are you jealous?”

“No, but it is going to cause trouble for me if jaded lovers, jealous girls, and lecherous old women start showing up to save you from me, or steal you away… or whatever they do.”

“Jordan, you watch entirely too many dramas. If the girls at the office think I am in a relationship and live with a girl, they will leave me alone. Most of those photos on social media are things I have been tagged in. Girls think I am hot and are all over me all the time.” His tone was a little too casual.

“You don’t seem broken up about it,” I pointed out.

“I mean, I love hearing that girls find me hot and want to do stuff with me, but a lot of times it gets out of hand and makes it hard to get anything done.”

“Aww, poor Yuki. He’s so hot that girls throw themselves at him all the time,” I teased.

Yuki’s face turned serious. “If I was a girl was telling you about this, you would be supportive and comforting and rant with her about men. When it happens to a guy, you write it off as something we enjoy. You don’t think I have never been touched in a way that makes me uncomfortable? Sure, I can fight a girl off a lot easier than a girl can fight off a guy, but if I do, then what? I get accused of hurting her because I said no?”

His words were sobering and I was quiet for a long moment.

I sorted through my assumptions and misconceptions. “I’m sorry I made light of your pain. You’re right, it isn’t okay either way. I think girls are just so used to hearing the catcalls and the harassment they assume guys must be doing it because they would like it done to them.”

“Don’t get me wrong.  I like hearing that I am hot, funny, etc. I’m not saying I always turn it down when a girl makes advances on me. I like an assertive woman. I just think it’s shitty that because I happen to have what I do in my pants, it’s assumed I am always looking for action.”

I held out my hand to help him up. “I guess I can be your cover story, but if I can’t keep track of all the girls and have to find other places to sleep because a sock is constantly on the door handle, I swear you will get your ‘player’ title back. Got it?”

“You can use me as your cover.”

“I don’t need a cover.”

“If you say so. Hey, so dinner tonight? What’s the plan? Conveyor belt sushi, ramen, noodles, the late night place across the street, or maybe a convenience store snack feast?”

I shook my head. “Actually, I made chicken noodle soup. It’s in the fridge. Help yourself.” I looked back to my desk and pondered if I wanted to do more work.

Yuki looped his arm around my waist and started walking me towards the door. “I am flattered you cooked for me, but we need to go out. It’s our first weekend alone together in Tokyo.”

“We went out last Sunday,” I said, digging my heels in.

“Pleeeeeeease?” He begged, flashing me his puppy eyes.

I sighed heavily. “Fine, but you’re paying.”

Demetri came bounding across the floor as we were about to leave. “Wait!” We both turned to look back at the bossy feline. “There has been an increase in activity from more powerful creatures. Be prepared and take your pens.”

I darted into my room and grabbed my pen off my nightstand and pushed it into my bun. “I’m ready,” I told Yuki, and we slipped out of the apartment.

Sitting beside each other at a conveyor sushi place, we didn’t talk much. It was only after I took my seventh plate that Yuki cracked the silence. “Dear lord Jordan, how much fish and rice can you actually eat?”

“Well, since you’re paying, I plan to find out.”

“No wonder you can’t keep a boyfriend. They can’t afford to keep feeding you.”

I turned just enough to glare at him. “Maybe I don’t want a boyfriend,” I started to argue, when I saw a shadowy figure sitting in a booth not far away. All I could see was his build because he had the hood of his jacket pulled up, but it felt like he was watching us. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Yuki, that guy over there gives me a weird vibe. I think he’s watching us.”

“He’s probably just in shock at how much you can eat,” he continued to joke.

“No, seriously. When I see him it makes all the hair on my arms stand up.” I lowered my eyes and went back to eating.

Yuki tried to casually glance in the direction I had indicated. “Okay, so what do you want to do?” he asked.

I took another plate of sushi and began eating it. “I want to see if he leaves soon since he is alone. Maybe it’s nothing?”

“You gotta trust your instincts,” he told me, before tapping the screen in front of us to begin closing out our ticket. After he finished paying he stood to wait for me, then protectively draped an arm around my shoulders as we left.

“What are you doing?” I asked him once we were about a block away.

“Well, if he is a creep I thought I would send the signal not to mess with you.”

I glanced up at him. “That wasn’t the feeling I got.”

“Oh.” He lowered his arm so his hand just rested at the small of my back. He was very quiet. I started to ask him why he was being clingy, but instead, he pulled me closer. “I think we are being followed,” he whispered before he nudged me along at a quicker pace.

When I noticed a park nearby, I pointed and we headed for it. As we stepped into the light from an overhead streetlamp, we turned to face the sound of approaching footsteps. Muscles tensed, ready to pounce, we met the beast head-on.

Instead of a monster, we faced two little boys. One was holding a ball while the other used the back of his sleeve to wipe his runny nose. I let out a breath of relief. With kind eyes, Yuki looked at the boys and spoke to them in Japanese. “You boys should hurry home. It’s dark out. Your mothers must be worried.”

The boys exchanged looks before looking back at us. The one with the snotty sleeve answered. “Our mothers never worry about us. In fact, right now they are out looking for dinner.”

I smiled at them both and did my best to convey my words in Japanese. “Wow, that must be hard. Are you boys hungry?” I asked, kneeling down to face them at eye level. As if to answer my question the boy with the ball clutched at his stomach and nodded.

I stood up to ask Yuki if we could take them for a snack, but as I met his eyes his face contorted in horror. “Jordan, watch out!” he gasped, reaching for me.

A strong hand suddenly gripped my shoulder and another two hands gripped my ankles, yanking me to the ground. I sucked in air at the sting of the concrete that hit my knees. I let out a scream and turned my attention to the boys behind me, who suddenly were equal in size to Yuki at least, if not larger. Their eyes were glowing red, and a hideous black shadow seemed to ooze off of them both. Their mouths were filled with jagged teeth and each hand was tipped with a razor sharp claw.

I gave up on screaming and focused on trying to kick and claw my way free. There was a flash of light and I looked up just in time to see Yuki charge towards them with a spear in hand. He plunged it into the back of the creature holding my feet and it let out a terrifying shriek. As Yuki pulled his spear free, the other creature let go of my shoulder and took a swipe at Yuki, catching him across the stomach.

I wasted no time in rolling over and grabbing for the pen in my hair. As I held it in front of me it became a sword. I barely had time to catch my breath before a now-bleeding monster launched itself at me. I jumped to the right and took a clumsy swing. With sheer luck I made contact. There was a spray of black, tar-like blood across the concrete. The monster staggered and reached for its arm. Both he and I looked at where it lay severed on the ground. He let out a blood-curdling scream and looked at me with vengeance in his eyes. In a deep, rumbling voice he snarled, “I’m going to torture you before I eat you.” With that, he reached down and picked up his arm and raised it high above his head as if to pummel me with it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Yuki holding his stomach while trying to fend off his own beast. “Hang in there, Yuki!” I yelled at him as I charged my approaching monster. I must have caught the beast off guard because he stumbled back a few steps and I forced my sword through his chest before twisting my wrist and pulling it through his side. The beast sank to his knees.

With my sword freed and my monster mostly subdued, I turned my attention to helping Yuki. I looked at the sword in my hands and focused on it. With the glow of a white light it faded away, leaving two lethal-looking daggers in my hands. I stepped in, ducking low as the beast swung his arms wide, trying to avoid Yuki’s spear. With its side exposed to me I drove the first of my daggers in deep, up to the hilt.

When the monster cried out, Yuki thrust his spear into its throat before stepping back. The monster gave one last gurgling cry before collapsing. I rushed to Yuki, leaning into him to help bear his weight as he sank to the ground. The entire front of his shirt was covered in blood and he had even more cuts and gashes covering his body. “Yuki?” I asked, cupping his cheek.

He smiled at me. “You okay?” he asked weakly.

“Yeah…” Behind me I heard a growl. I turned just in time to see the one-armed monster push to his feet and lunge at us, his teeth bared. A shadow moved quickly and there was a flash of steel. Just as the monster would have reached me, his head rolled to a stop beside my knee.

I looked up, trying to process what had just happened. Yuki stood before me holding a sword. His hood flapped behind him. My brows drew down as I looked from the Yuki in my lap to the Yuki standing before me. “Yuki?” I asked the one holding the sword.

“Not quite.” The Yuki in my lap grinned as he turned his head to look at our newest surprise. “Took you long enough… Itsuo,” Yuki grumbled.

“I was told not to intervene,” Itsuo said flatly, turning his back to leave.

I pulled myself free of Yuki and stood up to rush after him. “Wait!” I grabbed his sleeve to stop him. “Where have you been? I thought you were dead. Why…?”

Itsuo sighed and reached for my hand, pulling it free from his sleeve. “To you and my family I am dead. Itsuo died that night in the car accident.”

“I’m confused,” I admitted, looking back and forth between Itsuo and Yuki. “What do you mean, you were told not to intervene?”

“Guardian Command told me the two of you were in training. I’m not supposed to lend support until you take the oath and become full Guardians. Even so, I think they will forgive my overstep since you mostly took down two Evio class monsters.” He started to walk away again, before stopping and pulling something out of his pocket and holding it out to me. “Here, use this to close up yours and Yuki’s wounds.”

I looked back at Yuki, who was gasping for air. Cursing myself for leaving his side, I rushed back over to him. When I looked back, Itsuo was gone.

Demon’s Oasis Vol. 1

In case you missed the announcement earlier this week the first book in our new light novel series hit Amazon Kindle.

Demon’s Oasis follows the adventures of Jessie Soma and the “boys” from Oasis Host Club. This series offers readers the familiar Isabelle Fantasy/Paranormal vibe while plopping you down in what we hope feels like an anime or manga.

Demon's Oasis Vol1 2a

Chapter 11 – The Pen is as Mighty as a Sword

“Is it okay that we are going to start without Yuki?” I asked Demetri.

“Of course. He said he would catch up with us, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, and I guess I told him where we would be.” I eyed the “condemned” signs that hung on the walls and windows of the deserted apartment building (somewhere on the east side of Tokyo*) and shivered a little.  I had visions of crashing through the floor and breaking my leg, or the roof suddenly deciding to collapse on top of me… and that was before I considered the monsters… “Are you sure it’s okay to be here? Normally buildings are condemned for a reason.”

“In this case it’s because construction workers keep getting hurt from the Wato-level monsters that have a den here. Tonight we are going to get your feet wet hunting them down and destroying them,” he lectured.

“Wato?”

“Meaner than a Zerta class. They bite, kinda hard, but not hard enough to take off a hand or anything…”

“That’s reassuring,” I mumbled.

“Oh yeah, your weapon,” he said, like protection was an afterthought. I felt him wiggle about in the bag until a gold pen dropped out. “There, that might help.”

I knelt down to pick it up. “What do I do? Throw my hand up in the air and yell something like, ‘Glittery Pen Transformation?”

Demetri blinked at me. “Yeah….. do that. Just exactly that,” he urged.

Giving him a nod, I lifted the pen high above my head and in a confident booming voice yelled, “Glittery Gold Pen Transformation!” Nothing happened. I lowered my hand and looked at the pen. “Did I do it wrong?”

He looked at me with large round eyes. “Ooops, I forgot to tell you everything. You turn in a circle clockwise twice, then jump on your left foot while throwing your hand in the air, and then yell the change command. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work right away, sometimes it takes a little practice.”

Determined, I stepped away from the bag and followed the directions. After a third failed attempt I turned to ask Demetri if my form was wrong or something. Instead I found him doubled over in laughter. “What’s so funny? Am I doing it that badly?”

When he caught his breath he finally spoke. “Oh, you’re doing it perfectly. That’s just not how that pen works. I can’t believe you fell for that. Where would you get such a silly idea?”

Turning bright red, I reached down and shook him out of the bag. “All right, Fuzzyface, how do I make this thing work? Or would you rather I feed it to you?”

“Calm down, Jordan. Sheesh, it’s like you can’t take a joke. You’ve heard the saying the pen is mightier than the sword, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, this pen really is mightier than the sword. Hold it in both hands and now concentrate hard and imagine it changing into a sword.”

With some skepticism, I did what he said. I was amazed when the pen did shift into a longsword that resembled a katana. “Whoa…” I breathed.

“That’s not all. That pen has six functions. You just created the first one. You can have it change into five more weapons of your choosing. Pick carefully, because once it imprints that weapon, it will always be an option at your fingertips, but you won’t be able to change your mind later.”

I looked at the sword in my hands. “Okay, now what?”

“Now we go kill some Wato,” he said, leading me through the lobby of the building.

It didn’t take me long to discover my first Wato. Unlike the Zerta from a few days ago, these all appeared to be the same species. The creature crouched just inside the doorway was the size of a medium dog standing on two feet. It had glowing green egg-shaped eyes and oily black skin. It smiled and a row of small, jagged teeth gleamed in the limited light. Around it was a menacing soft purple glow that seemed to get darker the closer it got to the creature. “Do all Wato look like this?”

“These are just one species of Wato. They are related to what some human call Leprechauns,” Demetri sat behind me and began to clean his paws.

“What do I do?” The creature seemed to grin at me and lick its lips.

“Whack at it with your sword. Pro tip, use the pointy end.”

Just then it let out what I can only describe as a battle gurgle and charged at me, mouth open. I lifted the sword high and brought it down on its head. It cleaved in two and seemed to melt into the ground. I blinked a few times. “Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

I nodded. “I can do this.”

“Good, you keep going. Yuki should be here any minute. I need to get him set up. Hey, do you think he will fall for the pen thing?”

I shrugged and watched as his little fluffy tail exited the lobby. I stopped for a moment to zip my hoodie up a bit more, and then turned to the lobby in search of the next Wato. It wasn’t long before I had cleared the first floor and moved into the far stairwell of the building. As I reached the top of the flight of stairs, my phone buzzed.

MSG: Yuki
Starting 2nd floor. Demetri says work on the third floor and we will meet you up there.

I quickly hit reply.
MSG: Me
Okay, see you there!

I carefully made my way up another floor. Quietly I opened the metal door that separated the stairwell from the hallway. I began entering apartments one at a time. Most were small studios that were totally empty so it didn’t take too long. A few of them had a Wato or two in them, but nothing I couldn’t handle. As I neared the end of the hall, I saw the door to the second stairwell open. A tall, dark form entered, followed by a small cat-shaped form. I waved with my phone and saw it wave back. I approached it quickly and let out a breath of relief that it was, in fact, Yuki. “Hey, glad you could make it,” I whispered.

“Yeah, it’s quite the party,” he chuckled. In the darkness, I couldn’t really make out what he was wearing beyond it being black.

“Dressed for a funeral?” I teased.

He glanced at me. “I see you got the same memo. For the record, I wore it better.”

“You wish…”

“Children!” hissed Demetri. “Focus. The sooner we are done, the sooner you can both go home and shower and I can eat tuna.”

We both grumbled but split up and kept exterminating. When I reached the fifth and final floor I breathed a little easier knowing I was almost done. I cleared out a half a dozen more Watos and then went to the door of the last apartment. I froze because something felt a little off. Taking my courage in hand, I opened the door.

As I stepped into the room, it seemed to glow with dark energy. Gooey eggs lined the walls and slime seemed to leak from the bricks. I tried to back out quietly, but the door had closed behind me and wouldn’t open. I set down my sword and tried using both hands, but the knob was covered in a thick black ooze and I couldn’t get a grip to force it open.

I heard a rumbling gurgle behind me. Afraid to look, I turned to see what had made the noise. In the center of the room, a black blob that I hadn’t noticed up until now started to move. I held my breath as six long tentacles unfurled out of the top of it and two glowing red eyes blinked open. I leaned down and picked up my sword, lifting it defensively in front of me.

The eyes blinked a few times, looking around, then seemed to narrow in on me. “What do we have here?” hissed a low, gravelly voice. “Have my workers brought me dinner?”

I fought back my urge to scream and tried to back myself as deep into a corner as I could. One of the tentacles lashed out at me and I swung my sword, making contact with it. The beast howled angrily and the other five tentacles assaulted me. Wrapping around my ankles and an arm, I was dragged towards the mass at the center. I tried to scream but as I did one of the limbs wrapped around my throat, cutting off my ability to scream – or breathe.

In a state of panic, I watched helplessly as I was lifted towards the mouth on top of the blob. “Ooooooh, a Guardian in training. I haven’t eaten a Guardian before.” I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing for what was no doubt going to be a painful end.

I hit something with sudden impact. My eyes flew open to the sounds of the creature’s scream. My stunned brain told me that what I had hit was the floor. I quickly began to wiggle free of the monster’s severed tentacles before climbing to my feet to see what had happened.

Yuki stood beside the monster, thrusting a blade deep into it and causing it to gurgle its last breath before it died and melted into the floor. I started to step towards him, but he rushed over to stop me. “Don’t step in the goo from this one. It’s acidic. It will melt your shoes.” Before I could say anything, he wrapped his arms around me protectively and clutched me against his chest. “Are you all right?” he asked, finally releasing me.

I took a step back, shaking my head. “My throat really hurts, but I think I will be okay.”

He nodded. “Glad I got here when I did. I’ll finish up this floor. Just make sure to smash these eggs before you leave.”

I nodded and set to work as he left the room. When I finished, I made my way back down to the lobby where I found Yuki and Demetri waiting. “All set?” I asked.

“Looks that way,” answered Demetri.

We made our way home. After a long hot shower and pulling on my pajamas, I was anxious to get to bed. I stood in the doorway of my room and looked at Yuki where he sat reading on the couch. “Thanks for your help today. Not sure how I would have made it without you.”

He smiled at me. “It wasn’t that bad. You would have been fine,” he said with a wink. His eyes narrowed on my throat. “Is that going to be okay?” he asked with concern.

“Yeah, I should be fine,” I assured him, before saying goodnight. I crawled into bed and turned out the light. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.

Somewhere between nightmares of almost being eaten, I opened my eyes. Yuki was sitting on the edge of my bed stroking my hair. I started to say something but winced in pain. His cool hands rubbed a sweet-smelling gel into my throat and the pain lessened. “Shhhhh, sleep well. I promise I’ll keep watch tonight,” he told me, tucking the covers back up over my shoulders and brushing the hair from my face. He stood up and left my room without another word.

His presence reassured me and when I closed my eyes again the nightmares did not return.

Chapter 10 – A Class of Her Own

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

“Training,” was all Demetri said. I felt him shift his weight in the bag I had hanging from my shoulder.

“Ok, Fuzzyface, can you give me a few more details?”

Yuki sighed loudly beside me. “Seriously, I should be getting ready for my first day of work. Why did you want to come to the park?

“We’re going to hunt monsters,” Demetri insisted.

“Monsters?” I gulped.

“Don’t worry. Little monsters. Tiny, non-threatening monsters,” he reassured. “But first you need to learn how to see them.”

I took a seat on a park bench. Yuki walked on ahead and made his way to a coffee cart nearby.

“How do I do this?”

Demetri poked his head out of the bag. “Have you ever made your eyes not focus? Where you look at the world around you and everything is super blurry and out of focus?”

“Yeah,” I said with a nod.

“Do that, but this time try looking deeper into the blurriness. It may take a little practice, but you have a gift, so it should come pretty quickly to you.”

I tried what he said. “What exactly am I looking for?” I asked.

“Oh, you’ll know it when you see them. They will be obvious and the only thing in focus,” Demetri explained.

“Maybe this will help?” Yuki said, holding a cup out to me. I accepted it and watched quietly as he took a seat next to me. “So what exactly are we doing?”

“Looking for monsters… little, tiny monsters,” I finished.

“Oh, like the one by the cart, the two in the bushes, and the really tall one by the gate?” he asked, pointing in each direction.

“Very good, Yuki,” Demetri praised. “I’m afraid Jordan is struggling more than I thought she would.”

“It’s not like I am trying to fail,” I grumbled.

Yuki took a sip of his coffee before sitting it down. He rose to his feet and walked behind me. He leaned close, so that his lips were right next to my ear, and used the gentle touch of his fingertips to guide my head where he wanted me to look. “Do you see the gate?” he asked. I nodded, trying not to be distracted by the feeling of his breath on my ear and neck. “Look at the edge of the gate and while looking at it, focus your eyes just past it. The gate will become kind of blurry.” I followed his directions as he described each step. “Do you see that shadow just at the edge of the gate’s blur?” As I started to nod, I began focusing on it, while at the same time trying not to let my face turn any redder.

“Oh wow!” I jumped up, accidentally bumping heads with him. The shadow had come into focus and standing just fifteen feet away was a creature like I had never seen. Its skin appeared slightly oily and was dark with flecks of gold. It had two large eyes the size of chicken eggs that glowed a pale green. It was devoid of any mouth that I could see and reminded me of a six-foot-tall stick bug.

“You see it now?” he whispered as he rubbed his jaw.

My eyes quickly darted around to each of the places Yuki had pointed to earlier and I saw each of the creatures. Then I started noticing more and more of them. They were everywhere. They all had the same glowing eyes, but their colors, sizes, and shapes all varied. “There are so many.”

Demetri spoke up. “Yes, and most are not harmful in the least, but some are. Your job is to stop the ones that are.”

“How do I do that?”

“Practice,” he said simply.

“How do I know which ones are harmful?”

Demetri was quiet for a moment. “When they are Zerta, like these, it is pretty evident which ones are harmful. They sort of have a dark glow around them if they have fed off of some sort of human energy… or possibly off of a human physically,” he finished.

“Zerta? That doesn’t sound overly Japanese to me.” Yuki asked before I could.

“Low-level monsters that don’t pose much of a threat are Zerta class. Amokgun are the deadliest classification and should only be approached by a team of highly trained Guardians. The class system isn’t taken from Japanese. The system for classification is from a very old civilization.”

“Which one?” I asked automatically.

Demetri sighed. “You can learn all about it in the Great Library.”

“Oooh, that sounds like a place of interest.”

Yuki laughed. “Nerd!” However, a bare moment later he piped up, “But I’m with her. It sounds like a place of interest to me, too.”

Demetri glared up at Yuki. “Who says you get to go there and see it? You weren’t invited,” he declared.

“Uh, I just taught your new Guardian how to see the monsters. I think that qualifies me to be in the loop, and a giant library needs to be part of the loop.”

“So are you volunteering to be a Guardian?” Demetri asked.

“What? Don’t you think I would be willing to do my part to keep the human race safe?”

Demetri laughed bitterly. “You might mess up your hair.”

I bit my lips shut and looked at Yuki, who quirked a brow at the cat. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you don’t seem like the hero type,” Demetri argued.

“Why? Because I care about personal grooming?”

“Don’t forget the womanizing,” Demetri snarked.

“Women are human!”

“What womanizing?” I cut in.

“Nothing,” Yuki insisted.

“He’s talking to some girl named Fujiko,” Demetri said with rancor.

I looked at Yuki. He seemed embarrassed. I’d had a knee-jerk reaction when I had heard the argument start, but I remembered who I was talking about. “He’s new in town. It only makes sense he would want to make friends,” I maintained, shaking my head as if that would clear it.

“She works in the office I’ll be in. She has been telling me about the area, the work, and my new co-workers,” he said, pulling out his phone as if to show it to me.

“You don’t have to explain things to me. We’re not a couple. We’re just friends, remember?” I told him, waving the phone away.

He paused. “You’re right. Just so you know, I wouldn’t tell anyone something that could be dangerous for you.”

“I know that,” I said with a smile.

“Good.”

“Touching. I’m glad you kids can get past your romantic shortcomings to understand each other, but I need to know if you can actually be Guardians. Tuesday night we’ll go on our first hunt.  I know tomorrow will be a big day for you both, so why don’t we head home? I’m hungry for some tuna,” Demetri snorted.

We started the walk home. Every so often I would catch what I could only describe as a shadow out of the corner of my eye. When I would look closer, nothing was there. I started to think that seeing what I had today was enough to blow my mind.

Chapter 9 – Buffer Begone

I hugged my father tightly. “Thank you, Daddy,” I whispered in his ear, trying not to let tears seep into my voice.

As I stepped away, Yuki took my father’s hand and ended up hugging him instead. My father flashed me a confused look that I responded to with a silent shrug. “Don’t worry, Mr. Nakamura, I promise to watch over Jordan.”

Dad smiled politely and thanked Yuki. He motioned for me to follow him to the entrance to security. He pressed a credit card and five thousand yen into my hand. “What’s this for?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.

“That’s the card that still has your name on it attached to your mother’s and my account. Use it in the event of an emergency.” He looked over his shoulder at Yuki. “The cash is for another lock on your bedroom door.”

I rolled my eyes. “Dad, didn’t you offer to marry me off to Yuki not that long ago?”

“Yes, but I was just calling your bluff,” he insisted.

“I’ll be fine. You should be more worried about him,” I explained.

“If you kill him, don’t use your kitchen knives or the good cookware. It was expensive.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said, one last time before one more hug. Then I stepped back to stand with Yuki. We watched until my Dad had made it through the checkpoint and gave one last wave before heading to his gate.

The last couple of weeks had flown by. We had moved into our new place. Dad had had a security system installed in our new apartment. We bought furniture and Yuki bought a car. Demetri, to his credit, made it the entire time without revealing his ability to speak. All in all, I felt pretty good about things.

Yuki and I walked in silence back to the car. I slid into the passenger seat, trying to ignore what now felt like an awkward distance between us. As we pulled out of the parking structure Yuki finally broke the tension. “You know your Dad really did ask if I would be interested in marrying you?”

I cringed. “Sorry, he’s just worried about me.”

Yuki laughed. “You’re not even remotely interested in what I said to him?”

“I think it’s better for me not to know. Now that we live together it could cause friction.”

“How so?”

“I’m running through all the answers you could have given and none of them would help our situation. If you said yes, then I would feel pressure over your unrequited love. If you said no, I would somehow hold it against you, being convinced you have no taste,” I explained.

“Ah,” he responded. I was inexplicably irritated by his single-syllable answer

“Ah? That’s all the response you are going to give?”

“You didn’t want to know. Now that you have explained your reasoning, I understand and agree with you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I pushed.

“I mean, I think you are right and no good can come of me telling you.”

“So you said no? You jerk! As if you will ever find anyone better than me,” I grumbled.

Yuki sighed heavily. “Here we go. I didn’t say that I said no,” he responded calmly.

“You said it was better I didn’t know. That normally means you are about to tick me off.”

“Maybe I just want to protect my delicate ego?” he insisted.

“Maybe you just want to protect your-”

“Hey now,” he cut me off. “There’s no need for threats!”

I started chuckling. Yuki cast me a sideways glance. “Do you enjoy arguing with me?”

“Yes,” I smiled.

“If this is your form of foreplay, I am a little worried about what the main event is.”

I gasped and turned to glare at him, only to find he had a satisfied grin on his face. I decided to drop the fight. “I’m hungry.”

“Me too,” he said, poking at the GPS on the car’s console. “Your dad is gone. Do we want instant noodles or to sample of some of Japan’s fast food?”

“Fast food, then let’s stop to pick up groceries.”

“Don’t we have a fridge full of food back at home?”

“I’m not going to spend an hour or two every day on a meal. Especially not for three meals a day,” I said with a sigh. “I will find a use for most of what is in the fridge, but I’m not going to cook the big meals like dad has been for the last couple of weeks.”

He laughed. “I understand now why you were chubby when we were growing up.” Yuki rubbed his belly. “I think I put on a little weight with all your dad’s cooking.”

“I wasn’t chubby,” I argued.

“I never said it was a bad thing. Itsuo and I both thought you were pretty cute…” he trailed off. I shot him a startled look. He was glowing bright red.

“Ugh, men!” I grunted, crossing my arms over my chest and sinking down in the seat.

“Anyway, we can grab a burger then hit up a store. Monday I start at the new office and I just know I’m going to need to buy stock in a local coffee chain,” he joked.

“Yeah, I go in for a meeting with my editor. I need to finish up my storyboards today and tomorrow.”

“If we pick up the stuff, I can handle dinner so you can focus on work,” he offered.

“Awww, look at you trying to act all domesticated,” I teased.

“Keep it up and I may even wear a frilly apron for you.”

“Just as long as that isn’t all you wear.” I laughed wickedly when he gave me an innocent look and a not-so-innocent wink.

We made it home with uneventful ease. As we opened the door to the new place, Demetri sat there waiting for us. “Hey, cranky kitty, we bought lots of tuna,” I told him.

“Good work human, but we have an issue. While you were gone someone or something tried to breach the barrier on this place. They didn’t succeed, but it would seem they know we are here.”

“Who is they?” Yuki asked as if reading my mind.

Demetri was quiet for a long moment. “I’m not entirely sure who the threat is, but they no doubt want to prevent Jordan from fulfilling her purpose.”

“And my purpose is to protect mankind?” I asked, still hazy on some of the details that had brought me across an ocean.

“And to help keep the gates between planes sealed,” he finished for me.

“Is there a training course I get to take for that? You do know that I just barely passed P.E. in high school, right?”

Yuki outright laughed. “Yeah, that was pretty funny.”

“Shut up!” I warned, but he kept going cracking jokes at my expense.

“She was so bad at dodgeball the teacher made her wear a hockey helmet to class.”

“Greeeaat…” growled the cat.

“I don’t have to take this. I could go do my work,” I insisted.

“Wait!” Yuki said with concern. “We really should talk about someone trying to breach the barrier.” He turned his attention back to the cat. “So what does all this really mean? What should we be on the lookout for? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”

Demetri looked back and forth between the two of us. “I suppose both of you could use a little training.” He pointedly looked at me. “Some could use more training.”

“Why do I need training?” Yuki asked.

“Because you insisted on moving across an ocean to be close to me,” I pointed out.

“Will this training protect me from her sharp tongue?”

“I don’t know, Yuki. You’re talking ninja-level moves to avoid her venom,” Demetri considered.

“That’s okay, I was better at dodgeball than she was.”

The cat laughed. The little fuzzball laughed at me. “From the sounds of it, that doesn’t sound too hard. Perhaps I should be training you as the next hero.”

“Go ahead,” I snapped angrily. “When you two are done saving the world I will be working on my storyboard.” I turned with a huff and stormed away, closing my door with a little more force than I had anticipated and rattling the sparse hangings we had on the walls.

 

Chapter 8 – Pacific Hopping

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you and help you get settled in?” Yuki asked.

“Dad’s coming with me. I’ll be fine. You need to tie up your loose ends here before you come to Japan,” I insisted.

“Yeah, but just remember to skype me when you pick out apartments. I want to have a say in which room I get.”

“Blah blah blah,” I said, mocking him with my hand. “You’ll get whatever room I give you and like it!”

Yuki sighed. “Would now be a good time to tell you that my parents are overjoyed that I am moving in with you… even if it is all the way in Japan?”

“Your mom does know we are living together as roommates, in separate rooms, right?”

“Separate rooms and separate beds,” my dad said sternly, pulling his suitcase from the trunk. “I am not paying for you two to have a sex cocoon in Tokyo!”

“Ewwww, Dad! That’s gross!” I stuck out my tongue in mock disgust.

“Yeah, Mr. Nakamura, the term you’re looking for is Love Nest.”

My father paled and I believe I did too. “Dad, he’s kidding,” I quickly insisted.

My father leaned close to me. “We’ll buy an extra lock for your bedroom door,” he whispered.

“We could just get a better lock for the front door,” I offered.

Yuki rolled his eyes. “Seriously, I will be doing work there. I promise to act like a guardian and not let anything happen to her. I will see you both in a week.”

“Repeat, I am thirty-one and have lived on my own since I was twenty-four. I can adult!” I hugged Yuki and didn’t resist as he slid an envelope into my pocket. We had already discussed making sure my father wasn’t footing our bill, but Yuki wanted to make double sure. “Thanks,” I whispered into his ear. “See you soon.”

Yuki smiled and finished closing all the doors on my father’s SUV. “I promise not a scratch, sir,” Yuki vowed before getting back into the driver’s seat and leaving us in front of our terminal.

I turned and looked at the huge pile of suitcases. “Do I really need to take all this stuff? Can’t I just have you ship me what I need?”

“Trust your father, you need all this.” The way he said it told me there would be no arguments.

I picked up the carrier that had Demetri in it and Dad and I made our way to the ticket counter to check in. Seventeen hours later we touched down in Narita Airport just outside of Tokyo. The apprehension I thought I would feel wasn’t there – instead I was filled with excitement. “This is real,” I whispered to myself as I chased after my father on his way to immigration.

The next few days passed quicker than I would have liked. We managed to set up a bank account with the post office. I got SIM cards for myself and Yuki. I narrowed down apartments to my top three based on location, price, and how much I liked the place. After a couple heated discussions over skype, Yuki and I made a decision. The real estate agent seemed highly amused and kept calling us “the newlyweds” and chuckling with my father.

Friday night came. My father had plans with some old friends, so I was finally on my own. I saw him off, waited a full ten minutes, then pulled on my shoes and rushed down to the convenience store. I had been itching to go crazy and buy snacks and ramen, but when your father is a chef, cheap processed food isn’t an option.

Little plastic bag in hand, I made my way back to our Airbnb to feed Demetri and indulge in cheesy ramen and green tea-flavored chocolate, and wash it all down with melon soda. About halfway back I got the feeling I was being watched. I looked around without slowing my pace, but reached my free hand into my pocket and curled my fingers around my phone. A few steps away from the place we were staying, a man in a hoodie rushed passed me. He bumped my shoulder.

I started to stumble but he reached out to steady me. Most of his face was covered and I could only just make out the outline of his jaw. “Sumimasen,” he whispered before rushing off. I turned and watched him leave. He walked in the direction I had come from and I had a sudden urge to rush after him and tell him to be careful.

I headed inside and made extra sure to lock the door behind me. I fed Demetri, who was sulking that I had sentenced him to silence while my father was still here. “You can talk when he isn’t here,” I pointed out.

“Oh, her majesty will allow such things?”

“Look, if you don’t want the tuna, I can put it away,” I said, reaching for the can.

A paw with exposed claws swatted at me, followed by an angry hiss. “Touch it and I will shred everything you own,” he threatened.

I backed away and flopped on the couch, reaching for my ramen which should be ready by now. “It was weird, I felt like I was being watched when I came home from the convenience store.”

“You probably were,” he responded between bites.

I looked at him with alarm. “What?”

Swallowing the bite in his mouth, the small furball shifted his gaze to me. “You are here. You may not be actively vanquishing evil, but you have a powerful aura. I’m sure everything in the neighborhood is watching you with bated breath trying to figure out if you are a threat or not.”

“Am I in danger? Is my father in danger?” I said, glancing at the door.

“As long as they don’t think you are a threat, you should be fine.”

“Greeeeaaat…”

“Calm down, I have already contacted the local gatekeepers. They are cleansing and putting up a barrier at your new place before we even move in.” I knew his words were meant to calm my nerves, but it just made me feel more vulnerable now.

After I finished eating and disposing of the evidence I decided to turn in. Yuki would arrive tomorrow and I wanted a good night’s sleep if I had to handle both he and my father together for two days.

I read for a bit and fell asleep with the light still on. Between dreams, I heard my light click off and felt the blankets on me shift to cover me up. “Thanks dad,” I mumbled. A hand tucked a few strands of hair behind my ear. Through cracked eyelids I saw my father’s form in the doorway as he silently left the room.

I tugged the covers up higher and sank back into sleep, sleeping better now that I knew he had made it home safely.

When I next awoke, Demetri lay beside me on the bed, purring happily. I reached out and stroked his soft fur. “Awww, who’s a sweet kitty?”

“I am if it means you’ll feed me?” he implored.

“Didn’t my father feed you already?” I asked him, still petting his soft belly.

“He couldn’t have. He isn’t here.”

“Did he leave early this morning to go somewhere?” I asked.

“No, he didn’t come home last night. He sent you a text message around four am.”

I reached for my phone, and sure enough, he had sent me a message. I sat up quickly. “Demetri, who else was here last night?”

“Just you and me. Yuki doesn’t arrive until this afternoon,” he said, stretching.

“No, someone was here last night. They turned off my light and tucked me in. I thought it was my dad,” I explained, bordering on panic.

“Jordan calm down. You probably dreamed it and turned it off yourself. I would have sensed if anyone or anything besides us was here. Nothing was here.”

I stared at the bedside lamp for a long moment before deciding it was time to get up and get the day started. I messaged Dad to ask to meet at the café down the street for brunch before we went out to the airport to meet Yuki.

Chapter 7 – Backstories Aside

I finished opening the can and set it down on the floor beside the kitchen table. “It’s about time,” Demetri grumbled as he buried his face in the tuna.

I looked over at Yuki with concern. He was eyeing me and the cat suspiciously. “So he really talks?”

“Yup,” I admitted. I held out my hand to help him up. He eyed it cautiously before taking it. “I’m still the same Jordan you know and love. I just happen to have a talking cat now.”

Yuki stood up slowly and pulled me to stand behind him. “Are you sure he’s safe?”

“Why are you getting all protective now that I have fed him? Shouldn’t you have done this prior to sitting on the floor in shock?”

He turned his head and glared at me. “I’m sorry that my first reaction upon regaining my senses is to make sure you’re safe. You know, some women would think that’s chivalrous.”

“Let them be impressed,” I shrugged, pulling myself free of his grip and stepping around him. “He’s just a cat. A cranky, tuna-demanding, talking cat.”

Demetri sat back and pinned me with a look as he used his paw to clean the last of the tuna juice off his face. “I am not just a cat. I was sent here to find you and bring you back to Japan with me. You are just choosing not to cooperate.” The cat slid his attention to Yuki. “You, human! You seem mildly familiar, have we met before?”

Yuki looked from me to Demetri. “That depends, did you talk when we met before? If we did, then it wasn’t me. If you only made cat noises, we might have met before.” Yuki seemed to be relaxing and moved closer. “Why is it so important she goes to Japan?”

“She has a destiny to fulfill. We have a plan for her,” the small furball declared.

“I don’t buy into the whole destiny crap,” I said flatly.

Yuki looked back at me in shock and amusement. “Maybe you are some long-lost moon princess sent here to save the world in a time of crisis,” he mused.

“I doubt that. It’s probably something lame, like I have the power to pick out the best can of tuna from the shelves and talking cats everywhere want to make me their goddess,” I joked.

Yuki laughed. “You spin around and point at cans at the market saying things like, ‘Blue label select, I choose you!’ or sneak up behind displays and tackle them to the ground…” His laughter was infectious and we were both overtaken with a fit of giggles.

Demetri sat and stared at us disapprovingly. “If you two are done?”

“Wait!” I yelped, throwing up a hand. “They need me to pilot a giant robot against attacking space pirates.” Further laughter ensued.

Demetri cleared his throat. “What if I told you the stories about moon princesses, giant robots, space pirates, and magical cards were all true?”

“I would say bullshit,” I answered with a nod.

“Up until very recently, neither of you believed in talking cats, but here we are,” Demetri argued.

Both of our laughter trailed off as we exchanged glances. Talking cats were impossible…. as impossible as magic, demons, and space aliens.  But there he was, right in front of us, making snide comments and lashing his tail.

As the shift in my reality sobered me up, I asked the big question. “Why me? Why specifically me? I don’t want some non-committal, detail-lacking answer. Destiny and fate are BS. If you need me that bad, there is something specific about me that makes me the girl you are looking for.”

“We believe you have the ability to see things that exist around us that most people can’t see. What’s more, we’re pretty sure you can interact with, create, and destroy those unseen things. This gift makes you special.” Demetri hopped up on the table.

“Who is we?” asked Yuki.

Demetri huffed. “I work for an organization that oversees the gates between existences.”

“So why do you need me to go to Japan? Can’t I just fight here?”

“You know how Japan is an island?” the cat asked. We both nodded. “Think of it more like a lid. It’s out there in the water serving as a lock, or a lid, on a bunch of different gates. We had no clue humans were going to settle on it and build a civilization.”

Yuki looked at me. “Great, you know what this means?” I shook my head. “Space cats!” We both burst out laughing again.

His angry hiss snapped us back to reality. “Sorry,” we mumbled in unison.

“What’s the story with you two?” Demetri finally asked.

“What do you mean?”

“He means we seem really close and he wants to know why,” Yuki explained.

“Oh, the parent trap question?” I clarified and Yuki gave a nod. “Should I handle this?”

“He’s your cat…”

I took a deep breath before I began. “My father is a chef, and after he had completed the first half of his training in France, he went back to Japan. He worked as a Sous chef in a small western-style restaurant in Tokyo. My mom was an English teacher in Japan at the time. She was supposed to be on a date, but the guy stood her up. Everybody at the restaurant was too afraid to talk to her since she was a foreigner, so a member of the wait staff went and got my dad from the kitchen, knowing that at the very least his French was pretty good.”

Yuki pulled out a kitchen chair and motioned for me to take a seat before he, himself sat down. “I love your parents’ story,” he said with a gleam in his eye.

“Anyway, Dad went out to talk to her and found out she was stood up. He needed her to leave so they could free up the table, or to order something to eat. He felt pretty bad about what had happened, and being a nice guy told her she should order something and he would pay for it. When she didn’t know what to order, he asked what she wanted and she said ‘grilled cheese and tomato soup’, which he made special for her. After that, they would get together once a week under the guise of helping my father with his English so he could train more in North America. Eventually, my mom was moving back, and my dad decided to go with her, and they got married.”

“Ok… but how does this explain you and pointy-hair, pretty boy?” Demetri prompted.

“Aww, he thinks I’m pretty,” Yuki cooed.

“My dad was able to get a job at a fusion restaurant in Hartford. When we moved into the suburbs, there were only two other Japanese families in town. One was an older couple whose kids had already grown up, and the other family was the Takahashi family, who had twin boys a year older than me. My mom didn’t have problems making friends, but my Dad worked really long hours and still hadn’t mastered English, so he welcomed having a set of friends his age that spoke his native language. Since they were my parents’ friends, it only made sense that Yuki, Itsuo, Nate, and I would all grow up together as friends too.”

“Wait, so you’re a twin?” asked Demetri, turning his attention to Yuki. “There are two of you?”

My heart beat heavily at the cat’s question, but Yuki took over. “There were two of us until eight years ago. Jordan and my brother were in an accident with a drunk driver. Jordan survived but Itsuo didn’t. When we were growing up, Itsuo and Jordan were much closer than she and I were. My brother and I were really close, but we weren’t much alike. Itsuo was more outgoing, and believe it or not, I was pretty quiet.”

Yuki’s voice cracked and I reached over and took his hand without a second thought. “When Itsuo died Yuki and I became closer because it felt like each of us was missing our other half. We tried dating, and it didn’t exactly go so well. He drove off with my purse and left me stranded in California.”

“After she got drunk and made out with a couple different people, then refused to apologize for it,” Yuki added.

“I can’t apologize for something I don’t remember,” I bit back.

“Children, focus!” snapped the cat. “Anyway, I think I get the picture. You’re still friends but at times it is a little… strained?”

“Exactly!” I was quick to agree.

Demetri gave us a look that felt a little judgy but said nothing else on the subject. “Yuki here thinks you going to Japan is a good idea. You trust him, so why not go?”

Yuki cut in. “Actually, I thought it was a good idea until I heard about the giant robots, space pirates, and monsters.”

“I never mentioned monsters,” Demetri retaliated.

“Are there monsters?”

“Of course there are…”

“Yeah, I’m leaning more towards no now that I have all the details,” Yuki said firmly.

“Look, I’ve gone to great lengths to bring her back to Japan with me on good terms. She can go willingly, or the next guardian who comes won’t be as nice,” the cat said. “Just agree to it and pack up. This way you get to do a job you want to do.”

“Can I at least think about it?” I finally asked.

“I have to give a status report by Friday. You can have until then. After that, it will be out of my paws.”

Yuki and I exchanged glances. “Would you run away with a talking cat?” I asked.

“Is that an invitation?”

Chapter 6 – From Phone Calls to Talking Cats

I had just set my keys down on the table by the door when my phone buzzed to life. I flipped it over and rolled my eyes when I saw the caller ID. Hitting the button for speaker, I walked towards the kitchen. “Hi Mom.”

“Hello sweetheart,” chirped a happy voice.

“What did Nate tell you?” I asked, already hearing her chuckle. “What did he say, Mom?”

“We’re just so proud of you for chasing your dream,” she started.

“What does Dad think?”

“Your father thinks that moving to Japan will help you get in touch with your heritage, and for that he is thankful this opportunity came along,” Mom explained, with a tinge of something that told me that wasn’t exactly what Dad thought.

I laughed this time. “Where did this notion of me moving come from? Seriously, what did Nate tell you, because I don’t think you got the entire story.”

“Well, you see…”

“Here we go,” I mumbled, collapsing into a kitchen chair.

“Mariko called me to offer her congratulations after talking to Yuki, who told her all about your job offer,” she began.

I sighed. “How did I know Yuki was behind this?”

“Well, you know he’s been sweet on you since you were kids.”

“No, he’s tormented me since we were kids and continues now that we are adults. The only difference is Itsuo isn’t here to tell him to shut-up.”

Mom went silent for a moment. “You know what happened wasn’t your fault, right?”

“I called him out to get me in the middle of the night, Mom. I should take some responsibility for it.” Tears pricked at the back of my eyes. It had been eight years since the accident and I still couldn’t talk about it. “Mom, I would really rather not talk about this.”

“Whatever you say, dear. Anyway, Yuki told Mariko and she called to offer her congratulations. What kind of daughter lets her mother find out she is moving out of the country from someone else?”

Ah yes, the nagging part of the evening, I thought to myself. “Sorry, Mom. I just found out this morning and the paperwork came in while I was at work. I sent it to Yuki to translate. They didn’t offer me a position overseas. They just want to run my comic in a magazine.”

“That’s a big deal. How are you going to do a comic in Japan while living in Seattle?” she asked.

“Email and cloud storage?” I answered honestly. “Everything is electronic now. I can rule the world from my living room if I feel so motivated.”

“Oh Jordan, you don’t need to be so dramatic. So tell me about this job?” she pushed.

“Well, I would publish in their magazine for three months. If readers like me, they would sign me on for a year of creative work and help get my comics into book form. I don’t need to move there to do the job. I can do it here while still working in programming.” I secretly applauded myself for planning to be an adult and keep my real job.

Silence was all I heard in response. Then I heard my mother’s muffled voice and the phone being handed off. “Why don’t you want to live in Japan?” my father cut in. “If you are going to make manga like a Japanese artist, shouldn’t you go there and master the trade? I went to the US and France to master western style cooking.”

“Dad, I already know how to do this. I have a successful webcomic,” I reminded him.

“Is it the same?” he asked in an unyielding monotone that normally signaled I was about to lose an argument before it even began.

“Not exactly, but…”

“Not exactly means no, it is not the same. Japan made Japanese style animation and manga. You should go there and learn from the masters in it so you can do it at the best level you are capable of,” he argued.

“And how am I going to afford to do that?” I asked, perhaps a little too sarcastically.

“I will support you. Besides, maybe if you go there you will find a nice Japanese boy.”

“Dad, I’m thirty-one. I don’t need you to support me so that I can write manga. As for a nice Japanese boy, you didn’t marry a nice Japanese girl. You married Mom.”

“Are you saying you mother wasn’t nice? Or she wasn’t a good girl?”

“No, Dad, that isn’t at all what I am saying. I am just pointing out that she was a white girl from New York who was teaching English there. Things worked out well when you married an American. Are you saying that things didn’t work out well for you marrying Mom?” Ha, I turned that back around on him, I thought to myself.

“It’s not the same. Boys now have no respect,” he countered.

“What about Nate? You raised him to be respectful. You and Mom both like Yuki and Itsuo.”

“Nate is your brother so you cannot marry him. You can marry Yuki,” he accepted and I almost choked in shock. “I will call his parents and arrange everything. Okay?”

“Not okay!” I almost yelled into the phone sitting on the table.

“You just said he was a good boy. I agree with you. He likes you. You… sort of like him. Meh, all I want is to know you will be taken care of.” I heard my mother mumble something about grandchildren in the background.

“Dad, I’ll be okay. First, let me see if I even get enough readers to be signed long term. I promise I will consider moving to Japan, if I can get enough readers that the publisher offers me a long-term contract.” Just then I felt a nudge around my ankle. I looked down and Demetri had rolled a can of tuna over to me.

“Jordan, could you please use your thumbs and open this for me?” Demetri asked.

“Not now,” I snapped at the furball.

“Jordan, who was that?” came my father’s instant question.

“Oh you know, just Demetri.”

“Who is Demetri?”

“My cat,” I answered before thinking it through completely.

“Be serious, Jordan. Are you seeing a man and not telling us?”

Letting out a heavy sigh, I came up with a believable story. “My new neighbor Demetri, ummm, doesn’t have thumbs. He was born without them. Anyway, I sometimes help him open cans.” I groaned inwardly, knowing how ridiculous it sounded, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie outright to my parents.

“Ah, how does he button his…” my dad was cut off by the sound of the doorbell.

“Sorry, Dad, I gotta go. Someone is at the door. Love you, bye.” I quickly hung up before rushing to the door.

I flung it open to Yuki’s smug face. He took one look at me panting from my brief jog down the hall and immediately said, “Heavy breathing as soon as I arrive. I would say I just got here in time.”

“You!” I stabbed a finger in his direction.

“Me?”

“FYI, we’re getting married or I have to move to Japan,” I told him in a flat tone.

“Ah, you must have talked to your parents,” he said with a chuckle.

I stepped aside so he could come in and closed the door behind him with more force then I meant to. “What do you want?”

He held out a bouquet of roses with microwavable burritos nestled among them. ”I wanted to give you these before they thawed.”

I rolled my eyes and accepted them. “I thought we discussed fifty as the preferred number?”

“I figure if I give them to you a few at a time I can see you more often,” he said, stepping closer.

I slid just out of reach and headed back into the kitchen. “I better get these in water… and the freezer. Seriously though, why are you here?”

“I think you should go to Japan,” he insisted.

With a laugh, I turned around as I closed the freezer door. “You know, I was just kidding about the whole getting married thing. Your bachelor lifestyle is safe.”

He clutched his chest like I had wounded him. “For you, I could be a changed man.”

“Do those lines actually work?” I teased.

“More often then you want to know,” Yuki answered with a wink.

I was ready to retort with a snotty comment when Demetri hopped up on the table. “You there! The good-looking man with pointy hair. Do you know how to open a can of tuna? This human insists on trying to starve me.”

Yuki stared at the cat. “Hey, Jordan?”

“Yeah?”

“When did you get a cat?” he asked. His eyes never left Demetri.

“A couple days ago,” I said with a shrug, horrified about how this was going to play out.

“And how long has he talked?”

“Since I got him.”

Yuki sank to the floor and sat staring up at my talking cat. Demetri looked at me. “Why are you humans so shocked that a cat can talk? With so many intelligent creatures on this planet, why do you think you’re the only ones who are capable of speech?”

“Demetri, now isn’t the time to discuss this.”

Demetri looked back at the shocked Yuki. “So, where do we stand on your can-opening abilities?”

Chapter 5 – Enter Yuki

“Slow down, I promise if anyone tries to take your burrito away, I will… watch as you gnaw off their fingers,” Yuki teased.

I glared at him over the top of my burrito. When I managed to swallow my mouthful, I intended to tell him what I thought of his remark. Instead, he cleverly distracted me by pulling out a file and sliding it across the table. “What’s this?” I asked.

“What do you think it is?” he asked in a mocking tone. I blinked back at him. “This is the contract for our marriage that you will agree to as payment for my translation services. You’ll notice in article three, I have spelled out that, when you are rich and famous for your comic, you will indeed buy me a pony I can name ‘Chuckles’ and ride to the market.”

I shook my head to process what he had just said. It did no good. “Huh?”

With a sigh, Yuki flipped open the folder and pointed to the papers inside. He had printed the email and under each line of it translated its meaning and his understanding of it. “This, my dear Jordan, is the translation you had me do.”

“Okay, thank you,” I responded as I picked it up and started to read it over. Nothing in it seemed all that surprising. “So why did you want to talk to me in person?”

He rolled his eyes and took the folder from me. He started pointing at different sections. “This part says, if you are successful after three months, they will agree to a year’s contract with you. It also says they will help you publish your comic in tankōbon form if you sign a one-year contract. You will also have the ability to change the storylines you want to publish in the magazine.” He looked up at me with a face full of excitement. “Why are you not bouncing off the wall? This is huge for you. You get artistic freedom and retain your rights.”

I nodded calmly, closing the folder. “It’s all very exciting,” I agreed, starting to process that it was really happening. Yuki suddenly pulled out another folder and handed it to me. “What’s…?”

“Just look at it,” he said, motioning for me to open it. As I thumbed through the contents of the folder he continued talking. “These are living stipends and visa approvals for people who want to live in Japan and work in the field. Couple that with the fact that you are half Japanese, Jordan, and you really could go live in Tokyo and make a real living.”

I shook my head. “I have to get through the first three months. People have to like me and my comic. They may not.”

Yuki reached across the table and placed his hand over mine. I stared at it for a moment before meeting his eyes. “They will. You have a lot of talent and I know you can do this.”

I took a deep breath and pulled my hand free. Without another word, I returned to my second burrito. Yuki watched me closely. The quieter I was the more his smile broadened.

The rest of lunch was spent in nomming silence. When we pulled up to the office, Yuki raced around the car to open my door. “What are you doing?” I asked gingerly.

“Being a gentleman,” he offered.

“Since when are you a gentleman to me?”

“Since I realized somewhere along the line you were a girl. I’ve been extra nice to you for the last six or seven years.”

“Is that what you call it?” I faked a shocked look. “What do you call leaving me stranded in California?”

He was silent for a moment. “Justice.”

“And telling my last boyfriend I may have an STD?” I asked.

“First of all, I saw the guy before him. You might have. Second, the last guy was a douchebag. You should thank me for getting rid of him.” Yuki’s smirk was just a little too self-satisfied.

“I didn’t have anything. I had been tested, twice, before we started dating. You saying things like that implies I wasn’t being honest about my health,” I argued. He just shrugged. “Fine, what about your brother’s class ring?”

“Oh my god, this again?” he snapped. Without warning, he reached into his shirt and pulled out the aforementioned ring where it hung on a chain. Mumbling to himself, he unclasped it from his neck and moved to hang it around mine. “I can’t believe you are still bringing it up.”

“Yes, you can. I bring it up every year.”

“Well, just keep it this time,” he said insistently into my ear. When he finished clasping the necklace, he let one hand rest on my hip and the other on my shoulder. The nearness caught me off guard and my heart sped up. “There, are we even now?” he whispered.

I stepped back, pulling myself out of his grasp. “This is a start,” I said, turning towards the office entrance.

“Hey, and I bought you a burrito,” he joked.

Despite myself, I laughed. “Another fifty burritos and it may make up for California… may.”

With a dashing smile, he started to return to his car, then stopped. “Should I send a bouquet of burritos?”

“I’m pretty sure there isn’t such a thing,” I said.

“Enough money and I bet there is. If I send one, do I get a second date?”

“When was the first date?” I retorted. He motioned to me and I rolled my eyes as I stepped into the building. I grabbed my phone and quickly sent a message.

MSG: Me
Just so you know, today was so not a date.

 

MSG: Yuki
Just so you know, next time will be!

Chapter 4 – Phone Calls

Silence. When I answered the phone, all I was greeted with was silence. “Hello?” I asked.

There was a shuffling of paper and what sounded like the clicking of computer keys. Whoever was on the other end shifted the phone and took a deep breath as if they were psyching themselves up. “Nakamura-san?” asked a deep voice.

“Yes, speaking,” I said slowly.

“I am Sato Daichi from Shinto Shrine Publishing,” the voice continued.

“Oh, Mr. Sato, thank you for calling. I was very excited to receive your email.”

“Ah, yes… thank you for responding so quickly,” he said hesitantly. I heard a murmur of whispered voices on the other end of the phone. “We very much enjoy your comic. Would you like…” Daichi paused and mumbled something. “Would you be interested in translating and publishing your comic in one of our monthly magazines?”

“Yes, I would, but my Japanese isn’t good enough to do translations,” I explained carefully.

The voice on the other end of the phone picked up in tone and the speaker switched to Japanese. “Ah, I was not aware that you spoke Japanese. That’s better,” Daichi stated in relief.

I carefully processed what he was saying and did my best to formulate a response both polite and understandable. “I can only speak a little Japanese. I grew up in the United States. My father is Japanese but my mother is not. My father worked many hours so I didn’t learn or practice speaking or reading Japanese as much as I did English.” I kept my sentences short and simple because I didn’t trust my ability to dive into more complex conversation.

“I understand,” he said, reassuring me. “We would need twenty-five pages a month. If you use your team for art, the pay is higher than if you use our art team. You will need to hire your own translator since you live overseas. We will run three months of your comic. If fans respond favorably, we will offer you a contract for a longer period of time. Do you understand?”

I was quiet for a long time as my sleepy brain did its best to process all the information. “Do any of the pages need to be in color?” I finally asked… or at least tried to.

Daichi seemed to get the gist of what I was asking. “Yes, we need one color lead page a month.”

We spoke for a while longer. He confirmed they would send me all the details, including pay, in an email. I thanked him again for his time and the opportunity before hanging up and immediately calling Nate.

“Did they call?” He didn’t even bother with a “Hey Jordan.”

“Why else would I call you at this hour?” I answered in a mix of exasperation and excitement.

“So?”

“So what?” I asked.

“Did they make the offer? Are you going to do it? Details, woman! Aren’t you the one that always insists on the details?” Nate demanded.

“They are sending me all the details in an email. Once Mr. Sato found out I spoke some Japanese, that was all he spoke. I did my best to keep up but I was a bit overwhelmed,” I admitted.

“What happens if he sends all the details in Japanese with no English translation?” he finally asked.

“Then I guess I will call Yuki. He translates for a living. He would probably help us out.”

“You could call Dad?”

“Ha! Yeah, and listen to the lecture that men are not going to want to marry me if I do nothing but write stories and read manga. Do you remember when he told me that was why all my boyfriends in high school and college broke up with me?”

“And then I told him that you cosplaying all those scantily clad characters was why they dated you in the first place?” Nate laughed. “Man, I thought his head was going to explode. It was so funny.”

I cleared my throat. “Anyway, I don’t think involving Dad at this point is necessary.”

“If you say so,” he agreed. “So, are you going to move to Japan?”

“Why does everyone keep thinking that mangaka make enough that I could move to Japan?” I asked.

“Because Japanese mangaka afford to live there… well, except for all the ones living in Korea, but you get what I’m saying.”

“I have a job here,” I insisted.

“Yeah, that offers no benefits because they’re keeping you part-time. You can code anywhere in the world. Move to Tokyo! Get a two bedroom so I can visit!” Nate continued to babble but I stopped listening.

Maybe, if we make it through the three month trial, I will consider it. What about you?”

“What about me?” Nate asked carelessly.

“You’re the actual artist.”

“They were your character designs. I just did what you told me to. This is your baby. I just help you out because it’s fun.”

“So I can move to Tokyo, but you can’t?” I asked.

“Not can’t, I won’t move to Japan. I will totally be down for visiting as often as I can, though.”

“How is that fair?” I argued.

“Look, I’m like Dad. I like American girls. I’m not going to find a good American girl if I live in Japan.”

“Dad did,” I retorted as I remembered my parents’ cute little love story.

“You’re never going to settle down, so you should go have an adventure. See the world. Make manga!”

“What do you mean, I will never settle down?” I took a few calming breaths. “What is it with the men in this family thinking the only key to a happy life is a ring on my finger and a bun in my oven?”

I heard a choking sound on the other end of the phone that spluttered into laughter. “I never once thought your happiness was dependent on finding a guy. I definitely never implied anything about you having kids. Quit putting all that on me. I was just saying that you are a free spirit and I don’t see you settling down. I don’t think you are incapable of it, I just don’t see it as something you actively want.” He tried to explain himself quickly, in hopes of avoiding my wrath.

“And you do?”

“Yes,” Nate answered simply.

We ended up talking for another hour before we realized that if we wanted to function at work we really needed to get more sleep. I hung up the phone reluctantly and opened my inbox. Sure enough, there was an email outlining the entire agreement… or at least, that’s what I think it did. They didn’t include a translation this time.

**********************************************************************

I made it to work by the skin of my teeth, just in time to slide into my seat seconds before Molly strolled into the meeting room with a latte in one hand and her phone in the other.

The meeting was pretty much what it always was. She gave us, the programmers and engineers, a list of deadlines she expected us to meet. We, one by one, explained why those deadlines were going to go whipping by unmet, as politely as we could. Then, when she left the room, we all rolled our eyes and spent another ten minutes devising a plan on how to best get the most work done we could in the allotted amount of time. Management here never seemed to understand how things worked.

I stopped for a cup of coffee before heading to my desk to get things started. When I finally finished my tasks for the morning, I paused long enough to forward Yuki the email I had received the night before. I rolled my eyes knowing that it would no doubt end in a call where he told me I was getting too old for all of this “crap”.

When lunch finally rolled around, I was hungry enough to eat my keyboard. I grabbed my bag and was headed for my car when a twinkling sound from my phone stopped me. I tugged it out of my coat pocket.

MSG: Yuki
Hey, we need to talk about what you sent me. Let’s grab lunch, I’m already here.

I blinked at the message. Quickly my fingers moved over the screen.

MSG: Me
Here?

MSG: Yuki
Just hurry up and come outside.

MSG: Yuki
I’ll buy you a taco

MSG: Me
Burrito, and you’re paying!

I shoved my phone back into my pocket and pushed open the heavy door that led to employee parking. Sitting directly in front of the door was an expensive-looking black sports car. The window rolled down, revealing a handsome guy who had the face of my childhood best friend Itsuo, but I knew it wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. “Get a new car, Yuki?”

“Yes ma’am, now hurry up and get in. We have a lot to talk about.”