|By Agent Slash||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Agent Slash||Crime/Noir||M||Positive||N/A|
|A Good Day|
Y'know something that always fascinated me? I mean, something that really piqued my interest? Why Hideki was always so intrigued by the stories I told him. They weren't interesting stories, like out of a book or something. I mean, they were just stories about me. About my life when I was younger and what I wanted to be when I grew up and all that kinda stuff. Stuff you wouldn't think anybody, let alone a teenage boy, would find particularly interesting. But every time I started talking about that kind of stuff, it was like he was totally oblivious to every other thing in the world, and the only sound he could hear was my voice telling him what my university major was.
I was currently sitting with him on the couch in my living room, wrapping up the story of my family members, and what each of them did for a living. How my father was a baker and my mother was a teacher and my brother was a lawyer who never shut up about how much money he made. And while I was reciting my own family history, I couldn't help but feel the urge to ask Hideki about his.
I mean, it wasn't something that bothered me or anything. Not knowing anything about Hideki's past. But it was a question that occupied my cranium every so often. Every time I thought about asking him, though, I just told myself that he would tell me when he was ready. I mean, we had gotten pretty close at this point, so it was only a matter of time before he disclosed it to me. Either way, despite the fact that a part of me did want to know, I knew it wasn't my place to ask. And I don't mean to sound like some gritty, gravelly-voiced drifter, but a person's past is their own business, and that was something I respected.
"So, wait a minute, I still can't believe this," Hideki started. "Your brother was the one who defended June Zaoping?"
"Yep," I replied.
"The June Zaoping?" Hideki repeated.
"Uh-huh," I said. "I'm surprised you've even heard of her."
"Well, yeah," Hideki replied. "Everyone in the city has heard of June Zaoping. Even the street urchins."
In case you were wondering, June Zaoping was the head of Zaoping Incorporated, and one of the wealthiest people in the city. Heck, probably in the world. Her company was a brokerage firm that ended up illegally making millions off of other people's money, putting her at the center of one of the biggest legal battles in Republic City history.
But somehow, in a practically unfathomable turn of events that he still won't explain to me how he pulled off, my brother managed to acquit her. Always attributed it to his 'natural-born talent'
"How did he manage to get her off the hook?" Hideki queried, echoing my very thoughts.
"Believe me, if I knew, I'd tell you," I answered. "I've been asking him since it happened."
"Well, shit," said Hideki. "That's one talented brother you've got there."
"Yeah, talented brother," I scoffed. "Talented at being a pompous jackass."
"Hey, come on," Hideki said. "You shouldn't be so hard on him. He's your brother."
"I'm not that hard on him," I responded. "It's just, I told you how he is."
"I know, I know, I get it," Hideki said. "It sounds like he's a handful."
The rapid popping of the candle on the coffee table in front of us notified me that the time for talking was over, and it was time to get on with the errands the day had in store.
"Well, thanks for listening," I said, before getting off the couch. "But I've gotta get going."
"Where to?" Hideki asked.
"Today is my friend, Gan's, birthday," I explained. "We're having a party at his place, and I've gotta go pick out a cake from the store, then bring it over to his house."
"Any chance I could tag along?" he inquired.
"You wanna come with me?" I asked, having been taken by surprise. It wasn't typical for Hideki to tag along with me to places where there might be social interaction. But that's because the only places like that I ever went to were triad-related or in Gan's nightclub, neither of which I could take him to, even if I wanted to.
"Yeah," said Hideki. "I've been living here for months and I still haven't met any of the people you know. Plus, I don't feel like just sitting around here all day doing nothing."
"Well, okay," I said, not really having a problem with the situation. "Go ahead and get your coat."
Hideki hopped off the couch and speedily made his way over to the coatrack next to the door, just as the very unanticipated sound of a knock rang throughout the house. Before I could even think of who could be at the door, Hideki had already swung it open and revealed it to me.
"Song," said Kyoko. She was as real and tangible as could possibly be, confirming that I wasn't having a nightmare about one of my triad associates standing right in front of Hideki. She instantly took notice of the orphaned teen, flashing him a look of puzzlement. "Who's your little friend here?" she asked. "Is this your kid?"
"Do I look old enough to have a sixteen-year-old kid to you?" I scoffed at her, not really sure how to feel about that question.
"Well, I don't know," Kyoko replied rather defensively. "Why else would you have a kid in your house?"
"He could be my brother, my cousin, my nephew-" I started.
"Are you gonna answer the question or not?" Kyoko snapped, clearly losing more and more of her patience by the second.
"He's a kid I took in from the street," I explained.
Meanwhile, Hideki was just awkwardly standing there in silence, his expression letting us both know just how uncomfortable he was with both our lines of questioning.
"Okay, um, well," Kyoko began, trying to tell me whatever she came here to tell me without letting Hideki know what she was talking about. "That thing we were supposed to do today. We still doing that or what? I've been waiting out in front of your building for ten damn minutes."
That thing she was referring to was whacking a group of Agni Kais at a card game down in Linuki. Exactly the kind of thing you wanted Hideki to have any idea I was involved in.
"No, didn't Qin tell you?" I replied. "He decided to give that to, uh, Ryu and his guys."
"Nobody tells me anything," Kyoko said, shaking her head in annoyance. "I've been with these guys longer than almost any person, and they still treat me like I'm..." Deciding not to finish the thought, she instead decided to get on with apologizing. "Well, anyway, sorry about the mix-up, Song," she said. "And I'm ever sorrier you're gonna have to put up with me for the rest of the day."
"Um, excuse me?" I said, my tone clearly letting her know I didn't take kindly to that idea.
"Look, you can blame Qin if you want to," Kyoko said. "But it already took me an hour just to get my wrinkly behind all the way uptown, and I'm not about to spend an hour riding all the way back, when I just got here! Nor am I gonna spend the rest of my day sitting around my house like some bum! Now, come on, where are we going?"
Desperately not wanting Kyoko to come with us, but sensing immediately that she wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, I just stood there stammering. Looking for the proper words to say. "I-I, uh, I don't really think that's a-"
"Oh, come on, just let her come," Hideki interjected. "What's the big deal?"
In an instant, Kyoko had already started to use Hideki's approval as a weapon against me. "Your friend seems to want me along. I think you better listen to him," she said.
Accepting defeat, I emitted the largest and most frustrated of groans from the depths of my throat, sinking my head down in frustration. "Fine," I conceded. "Come on. We're going to pick up a cake for my friend's birthday party."
"Ooh, a birthday party!" Kyoko said. "Sounds like fun."
One hour later and we were already at Gan's place, soaking in the merriment and good vibes that filled his luxurious apartment.
Well, everybody else was.
I had just been anxiously standing by myself almost the whole hour we'd been there, keeping an eye on Kyoko. I wasn't sure what exactly I thought she was gonna do. It was just as much in her best interest as it was in my own to not blurt out the fact that she was a mobster to everybody in the room.
Still, the whole situation itself unnerved me. It occurred to me every instant that we were there, how dangerously close the two worlds I inhabited were to colliding. How all it would take was just one slip of the tongue for my dirtiest secret to be revealed. It didn't matter how unlikely that scenario was. It still caused me quite a bit of discomfort.
And, boy, you should've seen everybody's faces once the three of us walked in. All of Gan's friends and relatives there who already knew me were a bit bewildered to say the least, when they saw me walk into the party with a sixteen-year-old kid and an eighty-one-year-old woman.
I hadn't had time yet to introduce either of them, but I had already worked up a cover story for Kyoko. Normally I would've just introduced her as a friend from work, but Gan had finally gotten over the trauma he'd endured at the hands of Khan, and I didn't wanna upset him by bringing a triad member to his birthday party. I was afraid those memories would come rushing back.
At the moment, I was leaning against Gan's piano, holding a glass of champagne, and talking to Hideki, who found himself leaning up against the piano as well. "So," I said. "What do ya think?"
"Yeah, it's a nice place," Hideki replied. "Really stylish. Very spacey. A lot bigger than any place I lived in growing up."
Ah. Now he himself was pushing the conversation towards where he was from. I'd spotted a fish. I just had to wait for him to take a bite.
"And where might that have been?" I queried.
I could clearly see he was hesitant at first, as he had been for so long now about this topic. But any hesitation I saw quickly broke down as he beamed a rather sincere smile my way. "I guess it's only fair that I tell you since you've told me so much about yourself," he said. "I'm from the North Pole."
This admittedly made my head shoot backwards as I was taken aback by Hideki's answer. Something I hope he didn't hold against me. "Holy shit, really?" I said. "That far?"
"Yeah," Hideki admitted. "I know. It wasn't easy getting here."
"Yeah, I'll bet it wasn't," I replied. "Why on Earth did you come all the way down here? There wasn't anywhere else between the North Pole and here that you could've stayed?"
"I always heard Republic City was the land of opportunity," Hideki said. "I figured I had a better shot here than anywhere else in the world. Obviously, I was wrong. Some beacon of hope this place turned out to be."
"Yeah," I concurred. "That beacon of hope shit is just a line. The truth is, at this point, the city couldn't be dirtier. And until we get somebody to clean it up, people are gonna continue to suffer day after day after day."
"You'd think the Avatar would be the one to do it," Hideki said. "Since this city was his vision and all."
"Yeah," I said, taking a swig of champagne. "You'd think."
Then the two of us suddenly found ourselves being approached by three familiar faces, Gan, Kyoko, and someone I hadn't seen since Gan's last birthday, his father, Bodo.
"Child, you have some real interesting friends, you know that?" Gan laughed. "This girl you brought with you is a hoot!"
"Kyoko?" I chuckled, trying as hard as I could not to seem nervous. "Oh, yeah, she's a hoot alright!"
"And this, I assume, is the famous Hideki I've heard so much about?" Gan said, placing a hand on my young companion's shoulder.
"Yep," I replied.
"Nice to meet you, young fella!" Gan stated. "Song's told me a whole lot about you."
"She has, really?" Hideki asked, seemingly flattered by his inclusion in me and Gan's conversations.
"Oh, yeah!" Gan said. "She goes on and on every time she's in my club about how much she loves having you around the house."
"Gan!" I said, playfully hitting him in the arm. I didn't like having the emotions I felt towards others being put out into the open without my consent. I didn't care what my relationship was with the person. I was also more than a little embarrassed that Kyoko was seeing this side of me, a side that would no doubt be revealed during the next gab session amongst Gun's crew.
"Well, thank you, Song," Hideki said, shyly. "It's good to know I'm not a nuisance or anything like that."
"Oh, come on," I said to Hideki. "You could never be a nuisance to me."
"Sounds to me like you've already got some maternal instincts, Song," Bodo spoke up. I always loved hearing him speak. He had a voice like hot cocoa, warm, relaxing, and sweet whenever you got a taste of it. That was honestly just him as a person overall. He was a rather portly fellow, with bright, silver hair running across the back of his head and down the sides of his face, connecting with a small beard at the bottom. He also had a face that was the ultimate embodiment of the kind, elderly grandpa and a smile that would melt your heart with how sweet it was.
"Oh, come on, I don't know about that," I replied.
"Nah, nah, I can see it," Bodo insisted. "Gan's mother had those same instincts. All it takes is having someone younger than you who depends on you to bring it out. And, clearly, having Hideki to watch over has brought them out in you."
"If you say so," I responded. I couldn't really think of much to say on the subject, because the very idea of having kids at all really freaked me out. It was something I knew I would be ready for down the line, but holy shit, I was only twenty-five. Having kids wasn't something I even wanted to think about yet, in any capacity. Plus, I knew Hideki must've been feeling more and more awkward by the second, so I thought it would be best to steer the conversation in a different direction.
Before I had the chance, however, Kyoko decided to do it for me.
"Where is Gan's mother?" she inquired.
Fuck. I already knew the answer to that question, and it wasn't very pleasant.
Bodo sighed, his expression having dimmed somewhat. "She passed away some time ago," he said.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Kyoko said. "I had no idea."
"It's alright," said Bodo. "Talking about it used to bum me and Gan out, but nowadays neither of us feel all that bad when people ask us."
"Is it alright if I ask how she died?" Kyoko pressed further.
"She died during the Brightest Hour," Bodo replied. "Thirty-one years ago."
"Mmm," Kyoko replied, her own face losing some of its luster as well. "That was a terrible day."
For those of you who are unaware, the Brightest Hour was one of several Avatar-related, world-threatening crises that had rocked the city since it's genesis. This one in particular involved a crazy dictator who sent his army to destroy the entire city. Everyone in the city fought them off, while he himself fought Avatar Aang on some mountain somewhere. Believe it or not, there was even a lion turtle involved at some point. They called it the Brightest Hour, because the sun was at the brightest it had been in a thousand years or something. It was pretty devastating. A fuck ton of people died.
"Gan was only ten when it happened," said Bodo. "His mother stayed behind to fight, while he and I fled with the other people who chose to evacuate."
"I'm so sorry," Kyoko said.
"I always used to feel like a coward," Bodo admitted. "For running away while she chose to stay and fight. It made me feel like a bad husband. Like less of a man. But the truth is, she was a better fighter than me. And I wasn't there to see it, but I know she died like a hero. I know she didn't go out easy. And if she took ten, twenty, thirty of those fanatics with her before she died, then she ultimately helped make this city a better place."
"You made the right choice," Kyoko weighed in. "You could've given Gan here to your father or your mother or one of your siblings and they could've raised him themselves... but a child needs a parent to raise them. To guide them. To protect them. I lost my son during the Brightest Hour, because I wasn't able to protect him."
This revelation caught everyone by surprise, me more than anyone, as I had never even heard so much as a whisper about this before.
"Oh, my goodness," said Bodo. "I'm so sorry. I can't even imagine how that must've felt. If I'd lost Gan back then, I... I don't know what I would've done."
"My son was a bit older than yours was. He was twenty-eight. So, I've always been thankful that even though he died, I at least got to raise him into the smart, confident man he became. But it's still something that's stayed with me until this day."
"And how have you dealt with it?" Bodo asked.
"With time," Kyoko replied simply. "Time heals all scars. But that doesn't mean the scar isn't still visible. You can always see it. You never forget that it's there. It just doesn't hurt as much as it once did."
"To mama!" Gan said, raising a glass into the air. "And to Kyoko's son!"
"Here, here," we all replied solemnly, raising our own glasses.
Finally, after four hours of celebrating Gan's birthday, Hideki, Kyoko, and I found ourselves standing back outside my apartment building, just as the sun was beginning to set.
I was sure Kyoko wasn't happy about having just taken a bus twenty minutes uptown, only to have to take another bus an hour back out to Dragon Flats. But if she thought she was spending the night at my place, she was out of her damn mind.
"Hideki, take my key and go on upstairs," I said to my young companion, handing him the key to my apartment.
The sixteen-year-old took one last, wistful glance at the elderly gangster and smiled. It was obvious he had already grown attached to her. "Nice to meet you, Kyoko," he said, before turning away from us and walking into the building.
Then it was just me and Kyoko standing on the curb, all false pretenses having been eviscerated by Hideki's departure.
"So," I said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Likewise," Kyoko replied.
My natural instinct had been to turn around and leave myself, without wasting another thought on her or anything else work-related for the rest of the day. But there was something I had been wanting to press her further about. Something I think was already pretty obvious. "You never knew you had a son," I said.
"Yeah, well," Kyoko said. "There are a lot of things about me you don't know."
"Well, yeah," I said. "But that was something I figured I would've heard of by now."
"Song," said Kyoko. "Our business is filled to the brim with lowdown, dirty bastards and bitches who aren't afraid to dish on people's personal shit, no matter what it is. But there are some things that even the worst of us are afraid to bring up. The death of a child is one of 'em. It helps if they know you'll kick their asses if they do bring it up."
That managed to put a grin on my face. Kyoko's badassery was something I had admired about her from the start.
"I just pray that you never find yourself in that situation," Kyoko continued. "You've already shown with Hideki how great your maternal instincts are. Once you have a child of your own, and you develop that special bond with them... I know you'll be a great mother." "Thank you, Kyoko," I replied, having finally made up my mind that she was my favorite member of Gun's crew.
Just then, her bus pulled up to the curb, effectively bringing our affectionate, heart-to-heart moment to its ultimate end.
The elderly woman stepped aboard the bus the moment the doors opened, and took one ever-so-brief glance back in my direction. "Take care of yourself, Song," she said, as the doors closed behind her.
"You too," I said, not sure if she heard me before the doors closed.
Then the bus pulled away, taking Kyoko with it, and leaving me alone for the first time that day.
I finally made my way back towards my building, highly content with the way the day had unfolded, and thankful that even though my life wasn't in the best place at the moment, I still had wonderful friends and a lot to be happy about. It really pacified me. Feeling that way. It was something I didn't get to feel often anymore. It occurred to me that day that I should try to make sure that wasn't the case in the future.
It occurred to me that for the first time in a while, I'd had a good day.
- Bodo's appearance is modeled after actor, Stephen Henderson. His name is taken from the character of Jim Bono whom Henderson portrayed in the hit Broadway show, Fences, as well as the 2016 film adaptation.
For the collective works of the author, go here.