I had Help Me by Hako Yamazaki blasting in my ears when I walked into Daimon Kiyota’s renovated “office” and told him I was done. It wasn’t until halfway through his response that I bothered to take the earbuds out and let them hang from my phone’s audio jack almost all the way down to the floor. My deadpan gaze made him stop and rewind back to the beginning, this time with a shit-eating grin in place of his usual Blackbeard smile.
To my surprise, he stopped himself before he started speaking. His suddenly blank expression masked an eerie calm.
“Everything is Jake, Liling.” That got my attention: it was the first time he had ever used my real name – or any name at all. I felt a bit taken aback, briefly. He wasn’t dealing with my usual humorless bullshit and he was no spring chicken when it came to reading people. I could tell that he was just as serious as I was.
“You’ve been on the lam for a long time. There’s nothing going down in town.” He shrugged dramatically for effect. It didn’t have any, so he put a smile back on his face. “Zip your lips, don’t double-cross me, and you can high-hat every drugstore cowboy and gold digger from here to Big Sur. Copacetic?”
“Copacetic,” I said.
I glanced to my left and right, looking for the Bong Cha treatment.
“We’ll skip that part,” he crowed. “You’re too strong, now.”
I nodded curtly and thought about bowing. To hell with it. I put my earbuds back in and walked out the door of the Dragon’s main temple in Seoul for what I hoped would be the last time.
Kingsmouth is on the other side of the country from my parents’ home in California, so there was still the business of arranging a cross-country flight. I traded in my Pax Romana for a modest sum in pounds at one of the black market vendors in London – apparently the council’s currency is worthless outside the not-so-secret circles that float it.
It was enough to take care of transportation to the West Coast and then some. I bought new clothes for the first time in ages and dumpstered the black-and-purple hoodie that had been my mainstay for the past two years. Mixed memories, more good than bad, none of them worth dwelling on.
I still think of Shani, sometimes, when I look up at the moon at night. Probably better to forget about that one, too.
When I arrived in front of the light-blue rambler my parents called home, the door opened before I had even stepped out of the taxi. As I tipped the driver my mother called out to me with such agitation in her voice that I nearly tripped over my own toothpaste-white shoes running up the sidewalk.
“Oh, Lily. Thank goodness you’re here.”
“Mother! What’s wrong?”
“I made too much for dinner and your father and I can’t eat it all up by ourselves.”
“Oh…” I laughed stupidly, as if I were a six year-old child again. And then it dawned on me that my mother had just called me by my American name for the first time I could remember since I had been born. I looked down at her brown eyes behind thick-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses that cost more than mine did. Her smile, well, you couldn’t put a price on that.
“You’re not angry, mother? After everything that’s happened?”
She pursed her lips and pinched my left cheek between her thumb and index finger. “Just forget everything and start over. Oh, and Liling…”