“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.
Just so you know, today was so not a date.
Just so you know, next time will be!
“Why aren’t they responding?”
I looked at the clock on the microwave and calculated the sixteen hour difference. “It’s two PM there. For us, this is a big deal. For them, it is Tuesday. We are probably not as big a priority as their existing projects.” I justified the wait as much for Nate’s lack of patience as I did for my own sanity. For good measure, I hit refresh on my email again.
Nate sighed heavily and reached for another slice of pizza. One bite in he quickly stood up, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and dropped back into his chair. “I should head home soon,” he said, glancing at the clock.
“Then don’t open the beer. Put it back into the fridge and drink it another night,” I ordered.
He looked at the bottle in his hand. “It’s only one…”
“I don’t care!” I snapped before he could finish.
He paused. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I forgot.”
I shook my head and held up my hand. “Let’s not open that can of worms again.”
“Understood.” Nate rose and slipped it back into the fridge before reaching for his jacket. I followed him to the door. “If you hear anything, call me.”
I held up my pinky. “I promise.”
With a laugh, he stepped out into the cold evening air and jogged to his car. I watched as his taillights disappeared into the darkness before finally closing the door.
“I thought he would never leave,” came the irritated voice of Demetri.
I scowled down at the cat. “You didn’t have to stay hidden the entire time he was here. That was your choice. He’s an animal lover, you probably could have scored more tuna.’
The cat gave me a look that conveyed a disinterested shrug. “The fewer humans that know about a talking cat, the better.”
“You could have opted not to talk?”
“Be serious! How else would I convey my distaste for the things you do?”
“Silly me,” I answered with an eye roll.
“I could do without your sarcasm. Please keep in mind when we move to Japan that you can’t do that,” he said dryly, sniffing around the bowl I had put tuna in for him that morning. “Tuna, please.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, startled.
“I said, ‘Tuna, please?’ ”
“No, before that?” I insisted.
“Oh, when we move to Japan, please try….”
I cut him off quickly. “When did I agree to move to Japan?”
“It’s understood that for you to fulfill your destiny you will go where they most need you.”
“Anyway, how am I going to afford to live there?” I asked.
“With your new manga writing career,” Demetri replied logically.
“Do you know how much a manga author or artist make?” I quizzed the animal, who had dug through the shelf during our conversation and was now rolling a can over to me.
“I don’t know, but it is a job.”
I took a deep breath. “I’m not an artist. I’m just a writer. I know how to storyboard for comics, but the artwork needs to be done by someone with talent. If I’m lucky, I will make twenty thousand a year, and that is a HUGE ‘if’. I most likely will make less than half of that.”
“Hmmm, you can buy a lot of tuna with that amount.” The cat’s eyes glazed over.
“Yes, but where will I sleep? What will I eat? How will I afford an internet connection to submit my work to my publisher?”
Demetri snorted at me. “Is that all? How much could that cost?”
“A lot more than your tuna. I can’t go to Japan. I have a decent job here. Maybe I could go for a vacation a few times a year if I planned, but I can’t live there.”
He rolled his eyes. “Open this,” he insisted. I was quiet for a long moment. “Please?” With a sigh, I leaned down to pick up the can and crack it open.
By midnight I still hadn’t heard anything from Mr. Sato. I closed my laptop and made my way to bed. I was exhausted. In fact, I was beyond any words I knew to express my level of tired. Outside of that, I had a deep feeling of disappointment. I knew it would probably take a few days to hear back, but that didn’t prevent me from wishing for a more speedy response.
I crawled into bed and didn’t even argue when Demetri snuggled in under the covers with me. He fell asleep with a soft drumming purr that relaxed me. Darkness engulfed me and soon I had fallen into a dreamland where I seemed to know what was going on even though nothing was familiar.
I jumped from storyline to storyline, encountering evil necromancers, giant robots, and ghost ninjas. I never had time to get scared because one adventure bled into the next. As I sat around a long table discussing plans of action for the newest threat to humanity, I heard a familiar song playing in the background. I asked if anyone else heard it, but all the dream characters shook their heads in confusion.
The more I ignored it, the louder it became. As I pondered its meaning, I remembered that I had once had a phone that played that song as a ringtone. “Wait, I still have a phone that….” I sat up in bed with a snap and fumbled for my blaring phone. I glanced at the screen. “Plus eight one,” I read out loud, only to remember a split second later that that was the international country code for Japan. Taking a deep breath, I hit the green button and lifted the phone to my ear. “Hello, this is Jordan Nakamura.”
“My inbox has exploded!” I stared at the number of unread emails.
“Yes, well, that does tend to happen when you go viral,” Demetri explained in a voice devoid of interest.
I glared at the cat beside me. “You could pretend to be excited for me since you are freeloading in my house and eating my tuna.”
“Will you give me more tuna if I pretend to care?”
“No,” I said flatly.
“Then there is nothing for me to gain by pretending that your web scribbles’ success holds any value to me. It is merely a means to an end.” Demetri turned away from me and curled into a ball before closing his eyes.
“What do you mean, a means to an end?”
“Your talent was confirmed by Shinto Shrine Publishing. I just pointed them in your direction,” he said lazily.
I scooped Demetri up so that my nose practically rested against his forehead. “You did what?”
Demetri rolled his eyes. “Cats in the office are all the rage in Japan right now. I needed to find a way to ensure your passage overseas. I merely sat on a keyboard to assure that a lead editor would see your site. From there the entire staff read your work and tweeted about it. I would assume one or more of those emails are from the publishing house.”
“I owe my webcomic’s success to your furry butt?”
“Yes, now keep that in mind and go get me some tuna.”
I sat Demetri down on the corner of my desk and went to rummage through my cabinets until I located another can of tuna. When I popped it open, he leapt from my desk and rushed at my feet. “Foooooood!” he exclaimed as he mashed his fuzzy face into the bowl. With the talking cat distracted, I returned to my email and began weeding through the thousands of messages.
The moment I found a company email from a Sato Daichi I stopped scrolling to open it. I blinked in confusion a few times, trying to process it. “It’s in Japanese,” I mumbled. I scrolled further down and breathed a sigh of relief. There was what I assumed was a translation.
I represent Shinto Shrine Publishing, a publishing company located in Japan. While we publish multiple forms of art, we specialize in manga and magazine release. We recently came across your webcomic Girl Without a Name and would like to discuss the possibility of translation and release in one of our monthly subscriptions. We would like to arrange a call as soon as possible if you are interested.
I re-read the email and couldn’t help but smile. My inner nerd rejoiced. My fans had always motivated me, but while I never thought I needed validation from within the industry, it sure felt nice to receive it. Knowing that my characters may get to live their lives in front of a larger audience nearly drove me to tears.
Without a second to lose I picked up the phone and called Nate. He answered on the second ring. “Yup.”
“Hey Nate, I know what happened,” I told him.
“You found out that the editorial team at Shinto Shrine Publishing stumbled across your comic and tweeted about it?” I could hear the grin in his voice.
“And one of their bigwigs has reached out to you about translating your comic for distribution?” he continued.
“Yeah, I already know. Wow, it took you that long to figure it all out? Old age has slowed you down considerably.”
“Hey! Listen you brat, a lot is going on. I don’t have time to sit around and read tweets all day,” I retorted.
“No! I don’t! I have a job!” I balled my fist as if to shake it at him.
“Haha, okay, but I thought you were a coder? Don’t you set your own hours? Or has your boss finally given you a permanent full-time position?” I hated that he was right. Why did he have to actually pay attention to the things I said? He never listened this well when I would lecture him as a kid. He cleared his throat and it snapped me back to reality. “Anyway, I have a regular job so I need to get back to work. Get the details and I will plan to come over after work.”
“Do you want me to order pizza? Are you going to bring Eva with you?” I asked, remembering that he had been neglecting his girlfriend while we worked on this project.
“Yeah, your girlfriend?”
“Ooooooooh, no. No, she won’t be available. Just plan for me. I’ll grab drinks.”
I chose not to comment but instead agreed and hung up. I looked back at Demetri, who was sound asleep by my feet. With a deep breath to cool my nerves, I hit reply on the email. I started to type.
Dear Mr. Sato…
“Wait, is Daichi a male or female name?” I asked myself. “I’m pretty sure it’s male.” I sat silent for a moment, having an inner debate if I should just call my father and ask. I glanced at the clock. “Eleven… that would mean it is two in the afternoon out east. I wonder if I could catch him?”
I picked up the phone and dialed my father. A sickeningly sweet female voice answered. “Hello, Capalo Hotel Manhattan, how may I direct your call?”
“Yes, Chef Nakamura please,” I said clearly.
“May I say who’s calling?” the woman asked politely.
“Please let him know it is Jordan… his daughter,” I quickly added, realizing that for a busy executive chef, Jordan may not be enough information. The phone was suddenly filled with the sounds of smooth jazz. There was a click followed by silence. Worried that the call had been cut off, I spoke up. ”Hello?”
“Yes, sorry Jordan. Just a moment,” answered my father’s strong voice. I heard a muffled conversation and then he was back. “Sorry about that. We are prepping for dinner. Is something wrong? Are you okay? Is Nate all right?” The normally stern tone of my father’s voice had an edge of worry.
“Dad, don’t worry. We’re both fine. I just have a quick question. Is Daichi a guy’s name?”
“You interrupted prep to ask about a name?” he questioned. “What is this about? Are you online dating?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, I’m not dating. I was contacted by a publishing house in Japan. They are interested in publishing me.”
“I wasn’t aware you were writing in Japanese,” he stated. “Are you still coding and working with computers? Keep doing that. Writing is a hobby, not a career.”
I sighed. “I am still coding, Dad. Nate and I have a webcomic. The company is interested in translating my comic into Japanese for publishing overseas.”
“And someone at the publisher is interested in dating you?”
“No, Dad. Nothing like that. I’m not dating anyone,” I answered in exasperation.
“Why aren’t you dating? You’re beautiful and smart. You have a good job,” he insisted. “What is wrong with this publisher that he doesn’t want to date you?”
“Dad, he’s not… I mean…ugh…”
“This is why he doesn’t want to date you. You don’t use real words to express what you are feeling or thinking. Don’t worry, Daddy will help. Give me his number, I’ll tell him he should date you.”
I took three deep breaths and reminded myself that he was torturing me out of love. “Dad, is the name Daichi a male name in Japan?”
He was silent a long moment. “Typically, yes.”
“Thank you!” I said before lapsing into my normal goodbye speech that would get me off the phone.
Finally hanging up, I turned back to my computer.
Dear Mr. Sato,
Thank you for your inquiry about my webcomic. I am both flattered and humbled that you would take time out of your busy schedule to reach out to me. I would very much like to discuss the opportunity at your earliest convenience. I have attached my private contact information so you may more easily reach me.
I hit send and leaned back in my chair, highly satisfied with myself. I started working my way through the pile of fan mail in my inbox before I gave up and logged into the company servers to begin work. I was exhausted, but if I didn’t get my work done, I would have all the time I needed to sleep – without a job.
“Can we make his hair…spikier?”
“Uhhhhh, I’m not sure that is actually a real word?” Nate argued.
“It’s English, you can make anything a word in English,” I fired back.
Nate rolled his eyes before quickly moving his hand over his electronic drawing pad. “Ladies and gentlemen, Jordan Nakamura: inventor of words and Betty of Badassdom.”
I chuckled as I watched my character take shape on the screen. Giving ‘gentle’ instructions, Nate and I worked through the night making sure the newest installment for our web series was perfect. When the sun rose and we were finally out of coffee, I knew it was time to publish a new post and wait for the internet to explode. Of course, by “explode” I meant our three thousand fans would throw up their hands and rejoice at the birth of our new story arc that had taken entirely too long to produce.
I was thankful for our fans. Three thousand fans wasn’t enough for us to quit our real jobs and only produce content, but it did prove that we were, in fact, readable. We just had to keep trying to get out there, and I knew someday we would get our break. “It’s a numbers game,” I assured myself as I handed Nate his jacket.
“Sorry, did you say something?” he asked.
I shook my head to clear it as well as remind myself I had to stay awake long enough to crawl to bed. “Not really,” I answered while opening the door for him. “I mean, I was just saying it’s a numbers game. Eventually we will produce enough content that someone will notice… right?”
Nate reached out and ruffled my hair with a laugh. “Get some rest Jordan, our fans await.” The simple gesture reminded me of simpler times.
“Thanks, but they’re your fans too,” I insisted.
Ha paused long enough to give me a blank look. “Nope, I just draw what you tell me to. Anyway, good night!” Nate braced himself against the cold before opening the door and ducking out into the frigid February morning on the short jog to his car.
After closing and locking the door I stumbled back into my small home office. I looked over the new post one last time. “Well, here goes,” I mumbled, and hit the button to send it out into the world. Glancing at the clock I sighed heavily. “Seven fifteen…. Ewwwwwwh.”
I grabbed my phone off my desk then staggered to bed. I wiggled in an unladylike fashion until I had removed my bra and nothing else and collapsed into bed. Thumbing through the list of contacts on my phone, I found the one I was looking for and hit send. I prayed for a voicemail but instead got a singsongy voice on the other end.
“Jordan? Good morning, Jordan. How can I help you?”
“Mollie, I’m not coming into the office today. I was up all night working on a project.” I listened carefully as I heard my boss feverishly scribble something down on paper.
“Are you not working today? Or are you just not coming in?” she finally asked. The happiness was gone from her chirp.
“I’ll log in and work this afternoon, but if I don’t get some sleep none of my code is going to run without errors.”
She huffed a humongous sigh that had no doubt made her tiny frame shake. Hell, I almost shook on the other end of the phone. “This isn’t going to be a habit again, is it?”
“It may,” I admitted honestly. “If you could afford to pay me more for my coding, including some benefits, I wouldn’t need to freelance out.” I knew coming back to the age old arguments about workers’ rights would end the discussion quickly.
“Jordan, you know if we had a full time position available I would offer it to you?”
“On what planet is fifty hours a week not considered full time?” I growled.
“You know what I mean.” Mollie went quiet for a minute. “Oh, Jordan, I’m getting another call. Sorry, I gotta go. I’ll email you some specs. Just get some rest, then get those fingers moving.” In the next breath, she was gone.
I plugged in my phone and rolled over. I’m confident I was asleep before I actually closed my eyes.
Somewhere between my dream about a wild night with the entire cast of Thunder from Down Under and the dream where I rescued baby ducks from a carnivorous umbrella, I had a conversation with a talking cat. Most of my dreams feel like dreams, but the conversation with the cat felt strangely real.
Just when I was about to enjoy an encore performance from the glowing sex gods, the sounds of loud music ripped through my dreams. “Damn it, no!” I swore as dream-me made one last feeble reach for a leather G-string. I peeked through my lids and focused on the culprit.
My phone flashed and vibrated violently from where it sat on my nightstand screaming Bon Jovi at me. I flipped it over, revealing Nate’s photo on the screen. I hit the green button and squawked loudly into it, “What?!?!?!”
I was greeted with the faint sounds of keys clicking. “Uhhhh, Jordan? Did I wake you up?”
“Yes!” I snapped grumpily. “You interrupted a glorious dream involving a scantily leather-clad man who could tie cherry stems with his tongue….”
“So the guys from Thunder Down Under again?”
“Yes.” I sniffed that he so easily knew me.
“Sorry to interrupt what was no doubt another X-rated dream, but something is wrong with the site.”
I all but jumped out of bed and rushed to my laptop in the office. “Were we hacked?” I asked in a panic.
“No, but could you look at our viewership?”
I tapped my foot impatiently as my laptop loaded and I made my way to the site. I clicked on stats and flopped into the rolling chair beside me. I was in shock. “Does that really say forty-five thousand hits?”
“Forty-five?” Nate asked. I heard him frantically clicking. “That’s three thousand more hits in the last ten minutes. I needed to refresh.”
“Oh-Em-Gee!” I cried into the phone. “Do you think something is broken? Or do you think a spambot got ahold of our URL?”
“I don’t know,” Nate answered in a distracted tone.
“It’s rather funny how neither of you has considered that your site is going viral?” said an unfamiliar voice. I whirled around in my chair to confront the intruder, but the doorway behind me was empty.
“Uhhh Nate, someone is in my house…” I trailed off before absent-mindedly hanging up. I heard panic in his voice just before my phone went silent. I jumped out of the chair and rushed into the hall. “Hello?” I called out to my seemingly empty condo. “Hello?” When my phone started singing again I let out a shriek before answering an undoubtedly worried Nate.
“Jordan? Jordan? Are you ok?” he cried into the phone. “Lock yourself in a room and call nine one one. I’m on my way.”
I turned the corner and looked into my bedroom and then my bathroom. “Nate, I think I just imagined it. I woke up really suddenly and I don’t think I was fully awake.” Just to be sure, I grabbed my old softball bat from the hall closet and headed into the living room. I quickly checked it and the kitchen. Nobody was there.
I heaved a sigh of relief. “Sorry to worry you, but I think I just imagined it. I’ve been through the whole house. Nobody but me is here.”
I heard Nate let out a long breath. “So you are okay?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I told him while nodding to myself for reassurance.
“Don’t scare me like that, Jordan. Mom and Dad would be so mad if I let something happen to you.”
“Yeah, let’s try and avoid upsetting the parental units if we can help it. It is nice to know that my little brother has my back though.”
“Little,” he snorted.
“You’re two years younger!”
“And you’re two feet shorter!” Nate fired back.
“I’m not that short…”
He snickered like he had just gotten away with something. “Fine, maybe you’re not that short, but if you aren’t suffering from a home invasion, I’m going to let you go so I can get back to work.”
“Thanks!” I said as I started a pot of coffee. I dropped my phone on the table and rummaged for a coffee cup. Coming up empty – I had avoided dishes for three days while we were in crunch time – I gave up and washed a mug.
I poured a cup and sat down at the kitchen table. I inhaled deeply to drink in the aroma before taking the first sip. “Damn, if coffee beans aren’t really magical beans, I’m not sure I want to believe in magic.”
“Well that is a charmingly naive point of view,” said the voice from earlier.
“Eeep!” I squeaked as I dropped my mug and watched it crash and break on the floor. “My coffee!” I cried despondently.
“Seriously, you’re our best hope?” came the voice again.
I looked around the kitchen in a panic. I wondered if I was having a nervous break or if I could reach a knife for safety fast enough. “Who are you? Where are you hiding?” The table in front of me shook slightly, bringing my attention back to it. In front of me sat a non-descript grey cat. Nothing about it seemed out of the ordinary other than it was sitting on my kitchen table… and I didn’t own a cat. “Will you please calm yourself down? We don’t have time to sit here while you have a panic attack.”
I blinked repeatedly. “Are you talking?”
The cat yawned before sticking me with a glare that chilled my blood. “You’re serious? We had a conversation for over an hour this morning, and now you choose to freak out over me being a cat?”
The cat sighed, causing its whole body to rise and fall. “This morning around ten we talked about why I was here. I gave you a whole rundown.” I continued to stare. “You know, the whole chosen one thing. I’m here as your guardian. You need to defend the world against evil. Is any of this ringing a bell?”
“You’re a talking cat!” I yelped.
The cat growled at me. “Humans!” It shook its head. “Fix another cup of coffee, grab a can of tuna, and sit back down. I guess we will go through all this again.”