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.
“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 and 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.
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?”
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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
In a few hours, the first chapter in the new serial blog A Girl Without a Name will launch. Our Elven Life Production Team (which you may see called ELPT) is very excited to present this new storyline for our readers.
This story is meant to read and feel like a Light Novel. For those readers who are not familiar with this genre of reading, a Light Novel is the novelization of a manga. This is partially being done because we are releasing our first light novel Demon’s Oasis Vol.1 this fall. It’s also because I enjoy writing them.
The stories that take place within this blog and the new series are set in the same universe as one another. With this in mind, you may see some characters crossover from time to time.
We are very fortunate to be working with a couple talented artists for these new adventures. William White and David Jones will be providing a lot of the artwork and commercial graphics for these projects. Please find them online and support their portfolios as they grow as artists.
Finally, a quick note about how this blog and others in the future will run. At the completion of a storyline (approximately 17-25 chapters), the stories will be published as a volume to Amazon Kindle Books. You will be able to purchase them on Kindle for a buck or two a volume. My hope is that readers will do this to help support our blog. The money we use to pay our artists, cover the cost of the blog and url comes out of our pockets. This has and will continue to be a labor of love for us but every little bit helps.
Thank you and welcome to A Girl Without a Name!