“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.
“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?”
“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?”
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.
Starting 2nd floor. Demetri says work on the third floor and we will meet you up there.
I quickly hit reply.
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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 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.
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.
Just hurry up and come outside.
I’ll buy you a taco
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.”