Someone alerted me recently to a post by Miss Mouse linking to this story on ADISC a few months back and, since it’s no longer there, I thought I’d go ahead and post it up here, since there have been numerous updates that she probably missed unless she knew where else to find it.
So yeah, it’s really fucking long. It’s going to be a full-length novel, already up around 60,000 words, probably going to break 100K before it’s done. Hopefully it doesn’t put you to sleep…
It was, by all possible standards, a beautiful northern California summer day as my “adoptive” mother led me out the front door and down the broad stairs. I scarcely was aware of the pleasant weather outside, however, as I was entirely too busy fighting back a storm of anxiety that threatened to freeze my white-and-pink Keds in place each time they landed on the concrete. My hair was in pigtails, which only accentuated the preschooler look of my pink OshKosh denim skirt and white, ruffled Hello Kitty t-shirt. As we made our way down the stone walk, through the blooming hydrangeas, my hand firmly clamped onto hers, I watched the silver minivan come to a stop a few yards down the driveway. My trepidation reached a new height as a tall, bleached blonde surfaced from the passenger door, grinning so wide the sun seemed to cast a glare off her perfectly white teeth as she turned to face us, gasping out an incredibly exaggerated, multiple octave “Hello!” My grip tightened even harder on Mama’s hand, and I looked up at her desperately, seeking protection from this Malibu Barbie come to life as she approached us, arms spreading out and legs bending into a crouch, aimed straight toward me like a hawk preparing to snatch a helpless field mouse from the tall grass it foolishly believed a safe refuge.
I’d never been to preschool, though I certainly survived kindergarten the first time through. You’d think it’d be easier at twenty-two than it would have been at age four but, suffice to say, I wasn’t on my way to a teaching gig…
That particular summer was the shining pinnacle of the walking contradiction my life had become. It was late August in San Francisco, and though I was three months removed from the greatest accomplishment in my life, having graduated with honors from the Academy of Art University with a degree in graphic design, that victory seemed as distant as graduating kindergarten.
I had been through four jobs that summer, the latest working in a crappy coffee house, living in a crappy apartment at The Tenderloin, trying to just catch my breath a little before I took the plunge into the professional world. Of course, just surviving in this new adult world came with its own set of problems, tough enough for any twenty-two-year-old kid fresh out of college, but even worse for a girl of barely three feet, seven inches in height.
Yes, you heard that right. I was the shortest addition to a family of incredible shrinking women, my mother scarcely four feet tall, my grandmother a mere three inches taller than that. As if that weren’t bad enough, my prayers to dodge whatever genes gave them both what could best be described as “barrel with head” figures were answered all the way in the wrong direction; I was like a two-by-four with legs.
Not surprisingly, this made middle and high school a living nightmare. I was bullied, ostracized, belittled, and for the few that didn’t perceive me as the butt of a joke, pitied. The first three went away in college, thankfully, but the last part was far, far worse, and it never let up. Life is much easier when everyone just hates you and makes fun of you. You know where you stand. People feeling sorry for you because you look like you just graduated preschool instead of high school, that’s what makes you want to scream at the whole world.
The worst part was when I finally hit legal drinking age. I had to carry my birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, college ID, everything I could scare up when the few people I hung out with went out to a bar, because no one believed I could possibly be twenty-one. I got turned away at the door at nightclubs. No matter what I showed them, it was always “Go home to your mommy, kid.” My B.S. was small consolation for the torment I experienced trying to prove to everyone I really had existed on this miserable hunk of rock for twenty-odd trips around its half-pint star.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, the coffee house, my latest summer job. Yeah, that interview was a real lark. I suspect Bill, the owner, threw me a bone half out of pity and half out of fear I’d be on the phone with the labor board if he didn’t. I was offered and accepted a position as a busgirl, which I discovered was about the only thing I could do in that place without a very high risk of things getting broken. It wasn’t a terrible job, except when I’d come through the dining room with my pushcart with the dish tub on top and someone would make a remark about child labor laws, or worse start giggling about how cute I was. You’d never know it to look at me now, but I had quite the temper back then, and it was a constant struggle not to blow up at some dizzy soccer mom who couldn’t demonstrate enough self-control to not reach out and try to pinch my cheek as I walked by. On the plus side, the tips were pretty good, at least when same ogling customers realized I was actually there to do a job and decided to give me “a little something extra”. The waitstaff were decent enough to me as well, even if they treated me more like a mascot than a teammate.
This particular Thursday had been exceptionally miserable, with far too much cutesy crap from the customers without nearly enough extra tips to make it worthwhile. It was six thirty, the tail end of the dinner rush, and about an hour before I was scheduled to get off. I’d been there since seven that morning, having picked up an extra shift because I was short on the electric bill that month, and I was just about on my last fraying nerve when three of the football jocks from one of the local high schools piled in and sat down a few tables away from where I was working. They’d been in the cafe before, rowdy, causing trouble, and definitely not tipping. I did my best to ignore them as I cleared the table, but I wasn’t so lucky as to have them ignore me…
“Check it out, it’s mini-Minami!” the blonde laughed loudly, pointing in my direction. I said nothing and avoided any chance at eye contact as they laughed.
Laura, one of the waitresses, overheard him and quickly ran over to distract them. “Yeah, what can I get for you guys?” she snapped. Out of the corner of my eye I could see she had positioned herself directly in their line of sight to me, and I picked up my pace, trying to get the tables cleared and wiped down and get the hell into the kitchen before…
“Oh hell no, we want Shorty to wait on us,” the bigger brunette argued. “Come on over here and take my order, Shorty!” he shouted at me. I could feel other eyes start to lock in on me as well, and the blood ran to my face as I continued to work.
“She’s not a waitress, I am, so if you want something, you’ll have to get it from me,” Laura retorted.
“Oh fine, three coffees,” the blonde snapped.
“That it?” she sighed, clearly annoyed.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Laura walked toward the barista bar, shaking her head, and I started to push my cart toward another table, staring straight ahead and fuming. Unfortunately, my deliberate lack of attention toward that table was my undoing, as out of nowhere a huge jean-clad knee connected with the side of my cart and knocked it clean over, spilling my tub and an entire load of dishes, cups, flatware, and glasses all over the floor. I stood there in horror at the sight of so much broken glass and pottery, listening to the other two guffawing at their table, feeling my blood boil.
“Hey watch it, you little freak!” the kid boomed down at me. “You almost ran me over with that thing!”
I shook with rage as I squatted down and righted the cart, picking up what I could, biting my lip.
“I’m TALKING TO YOU, MIDGET!” he barked, stepping on one of the plates directly in front of me, crushing it under his Doc Marten.
I stood up and hissed, “You mind getting the hell out of my way so I can clean this up?” staring as well as I could up into his looming face, fists clenched.
His brows furrowed, but something seemed to momentarily distract him as he started to chuckle. He looked over at the table where the other two hyenas still watched intently and said, “Hey check this out! She’s perfect height for…” as he put his huge paw on top of my head and started to laugh.
His laugh was cut short, as were the others. As soon as I felt that hand touch me, I launched an uppercut square into his crotch. A chorus of gasps rang out as he lost his wind and dropped to his knees. “Minami that, bitch!” I spat, inches from his bulging eyes, which were now level with mine, then stormed back toward the kitchen, past a sea of nervous whispers and gaping mouths. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bill, the owner, follow in behind me.
“My office, Naomi,” he sighed as a ruckus broke out in the dining room, the three boys screaming threats and obscenities and several employees barking back at them. I did as I was told, while Bill walked back through the door and boomed, “You three got five seconds to hit the door before I call the cops! You assaulted one of my employees, and she defended herself, is what I saw! Anyone else see different?” I couldn’t help but smile as I sat down in the tiny room across from his desk.
My smile didn’t last long, unfortunately. Bill came back in, closed the door, and leaned up against the desk, arms folded, looking down at me with that “disappointed father” face he delivered so effectively when another boss might have started yelling. I would have preferred he do the latter, honestly. “Naomi, Naomi, Naomi…” he sighed. “I like you, really. You’re a hard worker, even if you are a grouch most of the time. But that… I can help keep you out of legal trouble, hell I’ll get statements from every customer out there, but…”
“Come on, Bill, you said it yourself!” I protested. “He put his hands on me, and I defended myself!”
“You know as well as I do this isn’t the first time you’ve had an altercation with the customers. It’s just the first time it got physical.” My head dropped. “You know I gotta let you go. I’m sorry, kiddo. I don’t have a choice.”
My lip trembled as I continued to stare at his shoes. “It’s not fucking fair, Bill,” I muttered.
“Look,” he said, reaching into his pocket and producing a wad of cash. “I know how tight you are, and how bad you need the money.” He peeled off a couple of bills and stuffed them into my hand. “Call it your tip-out for tonight. I’ll have your last check ready for you on Monday, okay?”
I nodded. “Thanks Bill.”
He squatted down and put a hand on my shoulder. “Do yourself a favor, kid. Go do something with that degree of yours, and quit foolin’ around in places like this, huh?”
I nodded again as I stood up. He opened the door and followed me back through the kitchen. “I’ll walk you to your car, just in case those pricks decided to hang around,” he said as we walked through the dining room.
True to his word, he escorted me the four blocks to the parking garage where my ratty old Crown Victoria sat, and wished me good luck as I got in. I managed to coax the old piece of junk to a start after several attempts, rolled it down to the gate, and paid my fee. Guess the party with the girls starts a little early, I thought to myself as I headed back toward my apartment to change out of the work uniform I’d no longer be needing.
After a fight with late-evening downtown traffic and a trip around the block to find a place to park the rolling wreck, I’d clamored up to my apartment and dumped the ugly tan chinos and heavily stained white button-up shirt on the floor in my room and changed into a pair of jeans and a black spaghetti-strap top. A shower probably would have been nice, but at that point I was dialed in on getting drunk, and in the likely futile pursuit of going home with something handsome, so getting on with the show took precedence. I dashed into the bathroom to apply some makeup and put a brush through my barely shoulder-length hair, then stopped at the full-length mirror in the hallway to assess my appearance. Much to my perpetual disappointment, I still looked like a little kid trying to play dress-up. In spite of this revelation, I stopped back into my bedroom to dab a bit of the dwindling bottle of Poison Sobo bought for me last year for my birthday, and off I went.
Back into the old Ford, and back over to the campus of the Academy of Art to pick up Jessica, a fifth-year senior likely headed for six and probably seven years before she left school, and even then a degree was pretty remote. In short, she was an airhead, far too wrapped up in social life and clothes and partying to be bothered with the actual work involved in passing her classes. On her best days, I found her mildly annoying, and on her worst, I questioned why I continued to put up with her, beyond the idea of beggars being choosy and all that. I pulled up into the student parking lot and fired her a quick text: “I’m out front. You ready to go?”
Two, three, five minutes passed, no answer. “Hello?” I texted again. Another five minutes ground away, and finally a response: “Sorry I ttly 4got u were coming Im at a party w Veronica.”
If I could have reached through that handset and choked that dizzy bitch I would have. Veronica was one of those high-society bitches from Corona Heights, for whom college was a social fling instead of a developmental pursuit. Jessica was always trying to suck up to that snotty bitch, as though she were going to wave a wand and turn Jessica into a spoiled princess just like her. It never ceased to amaze me the lengths to which she’d go to try and impress that snob.
“Thanks for making me waste my gas, bitch!” I texted back furiously as I cranked the car back up. Another text came back from her, but I didn’t bother to read it. “Find some other midget to play valet for you next time,” I grumbled to myself. She wasn’t getting any of Veronica’s money, but her attitude was certainly rubbing off.
All the way back across town I drove, to the townie bar where we had planned to meet. It was one of the few spots in town where the staff knew me well enough that they didn’t give me static about my ID, even if it wasn’t the liveliest after dark. As a matter of luck, I scored a parking space a few feet from the front door, a black Mercedes having just pulled out as I arrived. I walked in and discovered Amanda and Dez already sitting in a booth near the bar, and I made a beeline past the usual set of ogling eyes to pile in with them.
“Sorry I was late. Jessica blew us off,” I grumped as I sat down.
“I have no idea why you waste your time with that bitch,” Amanda groaned. “You know she only wants to hang out when she needs a ride.” Amanda, despite her excessive eye black and horror-film accessories, was the sensible one of the group, and she had an uncanny knack for reading people. Unfortunately, she also had an overly developed mothering instinct, particularly toward me, which could be downright obnoxious.
“She’s fine when she’s not following Veronica around like a puppy dog,” I grumbled.
“Puh-leeaze!” Dez piped up. “That bitch needs to spend a weekend across the bay without Daddy’s credit cards, for real!” Dez’s gay performance was about as cliché as his ghetto act, particularly when he shifted into bitch mode, with his bent wrist and neck shimmy and obviously forced near-lisp. He was nothing if not unintentionally entertaining. At this point Marcus, our waiter, came over, and I ordered my usual chili cheese fries and a Bacardi and Coke.
“Yeah, so I’m over talking about that scene, seriously,” I sighed. “Got fired today. That was fucking special.”
“Jesus, woman!” Amanda scolded. “What did you do this time?!”
I grinned evilly and said, “Punched one of those little punks from Stuart Hall right in the nuts. Dumb-ass knocked my cart over then had the nerve to put a hand on me and try to shove my face into his crotch!”
“Oh my god you did NOT!” Dez gasped. “And they fired you for it? Someone should’ve given you a medal, seriously! Every one of those little prep school boys need a good spanking on their tight little tushes!”
“Calm down there, horny toad,” I sighed. “But yeah, Bill was probably scared of getting sued. He gave me my tipout in the office before he walked me to my car…” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the wadded up bills I stuffed in there. “Oh shit… two hundred bucks!”
“Woooo baby, I guess we know who’s pickin’ up the tab tonight!” Dez squealed.
“What are you gonna do now, Naomi?!” Amanda prodded, spoiling the moment. “I mean, it’s not like there are a ton of places that’ll hire you as it is!”
I bristled at the admonishment. “I’ll find another job, and I’ll get my resume together and start getting out there. That’s what I always do!”
“Yeah, except for the resume part,” she fired back. “You’ve been ‘getting your resume together’ for three months!”
“Hey now, are we here to rag on Naomi, or are we here to get warmed up before the show?” Dez cut in. “I don’t know about you, but I got some drinkin’ to do.” As if to reinforce the point, he drained his tequila sunrise and waved the glass around behind him until the bartender caught sight of it.
“Show? What show?” I queried.
“Dez, you were supposed to call her!” Amanda chided, smacking him lightly on the arm. “Yeah, Obscura’s playing at the DNA tonight!” she redirected. “It’s gonna be a killer show!”
“The DNA?!” I groaned. “Come on, 'Manda! You KNOW I can’t go there!”
“Oh shit, I forgot about the…” she trailed off.
“Girl, you got to do something about that temper,” Dez started in, obviously happy to have the heat off him for a moment. “We are so running out of places to hang out!”
“Hey, it’s cool, we can catch them another time,” Amanda said, weakly hiding the disappointment in her voice.
“No, it’s fine. Go have fun. I hate that goth shit anyway,” I fumed. “Bunch of pretentious fucks.”
“Excuse me?” Amanda shot back. “So now I’m a pretentious fuck?”
“No… I mean… goddammit!” I stuttered.
“You better dig that sneaker out your mouth and come up with somethin’ better than that, girlfriend!” Dez added.
“What the fuck ever!” I snapped back. “Make plans to go to a club where I’m barred, spring it on me when I show up here, and now you’re gonna try and talk some shit to me about foot-in-mouth? Really?”
Marcus, as if on cue, returned with my order and Dez’s drink. Amanda turned around and said, “Yeah, I’ll have a check please, with a side of guilt.” She turned back to me and snapped, “Fine. I’ll go hang out with ‘pretentious fucks’ like me, and you can sit here and stew in your self-righteousness.”
I took a long pull off my drink, then slammed it down on the table. “Good. Take Fruit Loops with you. Maybe he can blow his way into getting you some backstage passes.”
Dez’s brows furrowed deeply, but he said nothing. Amanda was building steam now, though. “Goddammit Naomi, you’re so convinced the whole world hates you because you’re short. Did it ever occur to you that people don’t like bitches in any size?”
That stung, but I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of knowing it. “I’m pretty sure I don’t have the market cornered on BITCH at this table,” I spat. “I’m sorry, weren’t you two fucking leaving? I don’t need to hear this shit!”
“I am leaving!” she barked. She stood up just as Marcus got back to the table, and she grabbed the black billfold out of his hand. She opened it, stuffed in a couple bills from her pocket, and handed it back to him. “Don’t worry about hearing shit neither – and don’t hold your breath waiting for me to call!”
Dez stood up, drained his drink, and offered a “MmmmmMMM!” in my direction, to which I rolled my eyes. “You need to remember who your friends are, is all I’m sayin’!” he announced as he walked out behind Amanda.
“I guess I know who they aren’t!” I shouted behind them, trembling from the sudden adrenaline rush. “BITCHES!” I picked at my fries for a few minutes, flopping back and forth inside between rage and guilt. “Fuck them,” I finally announced to no one in particular. “Who needs that shit?!” I drained my glass and waved it in the air as Marcus walked by, and he nodded, with a knowing grin on his face.
I worked my way through about half my plate and another rum and coke before I noticed a blonde woman sitting at the bar, seemingly staring at me with a concerned look on her face. I dismissed it and resumed my dinner, catching Marcus’ attention once more, and he returned with a third round. “Better pace yourself, hotshot,” he said with a grin.
“Last I checked, I order the drinks, you bring the drinks, you get the tips. I already apparently have two mothers. I don’t need a third,” I grumped. I looked up at the bar, and the blonde was still sitting there, and still pointed my direction with that same look on her face.
“Who’s the creeper at the bar?” I asked.
Marcus laughed and said, “Yeah, that would be Elise, one of the regulars.”
“Yeah? So what’s her fascination with me?”
“Dunno. I bet she’d have a better answer for you than me, though,” he chuckled.
“Just get me another drink, will ya?” I groaned, taking another pull. I was just starting to feel a warm buzz at this point, which came as a welcome relief to my frayed nerves. Unfortunately, as the ball of rage in my gut began to dissipate with the aid of the alcohol, it was quickly replaced with regret as I reviewed the series of explosions that had punctuated the day. As much as I didn’t want to hear it, Amanda was right. I was drifting, and I needed to get my shit together and quit procrastinating about getting my career started. Of course, blowing up at her didn’t exactly help matters. It’s not like I had a parade of friends I could use to avoid her while she cooled off. “Her fucking fault,” I huffed at the empty seat across from me. “If she wasn’t so fucking condescending about it!” I finished off my drink just as Marcus arrived with the fresh one, struggling to maintain my composure as my head began to swim with booze and remorse.
“Sweetheart, you’d better slow down on that stuff,” he admonished. “They don’t pay me enough to be carrying you out of here.”
“I’m fine,” I snapped. “Just keep em coming.” I took a swallow, then got up to hit the bathroom. I tried not to make eye contact as I brushed by Elise, who was still sitting at the bar, and still very much fixated on me. I could feel her eyes burn through the back of my head as I entered the ladies’ room, and was grateful when the door broke the visual plane. The silence and sterility of the pristine stall amplified the emotional upheaval I was so desperately trying to quell, and I felt myself begin to tear up involuntarily as I sat there. Getting fired the day after my mother basically cut me off, then a fight with one of the only friends I had, right when I needed one the most, was all just too much.
“Get it together, you crybaby!” I finally snarled through my sniffling. I finished my business and went to the sink to wash my hands, feeling my gait starting to wobble as I went. I looked up in the mirror, and sure enough, the evidence of my emotional outburst was as plain as day in the swelling around my eyes and my mascara bleeding down my cheeks. I splashed water on my face and dried up with a handful of paper towels, grabbed my eye shadow out of my purse and did my best touch-up effort, then headed back out, head down, determined to keep the evidence of my increasing intoxication and fracturing emotional state as invisible as I could to the rest of the bar, focusing tightly on my feet and forcing myself to walk a straight path back to the booth.
Apparently, my efforts were a complete failure. No sooner had I sat down and took another swallow of my drink than I felt the presence standing next to me at the table and heard the soft voice. “You know that’s not going to fix anything.”
Without looking up, I tried to blow her off. “Who said anything was broken?” I remarked, smacking my glass down on the table to accentuate the point.
Unfortunately, this seemed to have the opposite effect. She sat down across from me in the booth and leaned in, maintaining that soft voice. “All the bluster in the world won’t hide those eyes, kiddo.”
I bristled at that last word. “I’m not your kiddo. I don’t know you, you definitely don’t know me, yet you’re over here pretending you give a shit about me. I got no money, lady, and I don’t know anyone worth knowing. What do you want with me?” I drained my drink and waved my glass to Marcus once more, and he waved his acknowledgment.
“I know who I am. I’m Elise Roberts, and I own the antique mall down the street. I also know who you are. You’re Naomi, and you’re here about two or three times a week with your college friends that just ditched you, usually with another girl I assume is in college right now as well.”
Even through the thickening haze of the rum, the rage came through focused and clear as my voice grew louder. “Yeah, you don’t know a damned thing. I graduated two months ago. And since I don’t own nor am I looking to buy any old junk, I don’t see why I should care who you are.”
Her tone remained unnervingly even. “You know, I came over to talk to you because you looked like you could use a friend. Funny thing is, every other time I’ve ever seen you in here, you looked the same, even when your table was full of people.” Marcus came back with another drink and looked at her quizzically.
“Well maybe that’s because you read me wrong. I got plenty of friends.” I realized my words were starting to run together and cursed myself for it.
“Is that why they walked out in a huff and you’re still here drinking yourself into a stupor?”
“Last I checked, it’s a free country, and I can get bombed if I want. Still don’t get why you care.” I was running out of defenses and wishing she’d just go away.
“It’s easier this way, isn’t it?” she pressed. “Much easier to be the porcupine than worry about getting the quills, right?”
That was a low blow by any standards, as far as I was concerned. I tilted the fresh glass back and took a long pull. By that point, I’d completely lost track of how much I had to drink, but I knew I was well beyond my limit as I smacked the glass back down on the table. “We’re playing pop psychology now?” I slurred into a sloppy laugh. “What’s next, I wanna kill my mother and fuck my father?” My eyes were starting to blur as I giggled, but I shook it off. “I got one for ya,” I chortled. “Lot easier to play doctor to an amputee than stitch up your own wounds, ain’t it?” I reached down to grab the drink again and knocked it right off the table. As an added bonus, I smacked my forehead on the edge of the table when I tried to catch the tumbling glass. “Fuck!” I shouted, as it shattered against the floor, covering my face as I reflexively bounced my head backward, cracking it hard into the bare wood behind, and saw stars.
“Oh my god, are you okay?!” Elise gasped.
The world began to spin harder, and I closed my eyes and said, “I’m fine… I just need to… pay my tab… and… get to my car…”
“The hell you do!” I heard her from a distance. “You’re not driving anywhere tonight, kiddo!” The voice drew closer, and I felt her shove into my side of the booth and pry my hands away from my face a lot easier than I expected. I felt a sudden shock of cold on my forehead, and managed to open my other eye enough to see a dishrag up against my face, presumably filled with ice.
“Dammit, I said I’m…” I began, right before everything went black.
I woke to a thundering pain in my skull, pulsing between the back of my head and what felt like an ostrich egg firmly attached to my forehead. I reluctantly opened my eyes to a squint, and was completely horrified at what I saw. I was lying in a very short single bed, covered with a white comforter with pale blue trim, emblazoned with cartoon butterflies and ladybugs. The walls were a soft pastel blue, with white trim on the door frames and the molding. “Where the fuck am I?!” I croaked, mouth dry as sand and throat so raw I wondered if I’d taken up smoking at some point the previous night.
I rolled over on my side, still struggling to focus, and was greeted by a rather creepy looking lamp, consisting of a cast depiction of Snow White surrounded by a menagerie of cartoon animals. Beside it sat a glass of water and two red pills, all sitting on a white nightstand accented with carvings of flowers and what I could only guess were trees of some sort. Just as I began a feeble attempt to sit up, two things happened in rapid succession. First, my bladder awakened with a vengeance, which sent enough of a panic signal to my still-foggy brain that there was no time at all to wait. Second, one of the doors opened and a head popped in, one I vaguely recognized, but couldn’t place immediately. She started to speak, but I cut her off with a single word: “Bathroom!” Her eyes indicated she was too surprised to respond verbally, and she pointed at the other door vigorously, then withdrew.
After throwing off the comforter, I half ran, half staggered through the door she pointed out, smacking my shoulder on the way through, which nearly knocked me to the floor, and found myself in a huge bathroom with a massive garden tub and luxuriously appointed fixtures, of which only one was of my immediate concern. It was only when I finally reached the toilet that I realized I was not wearing anything that remotely resembled my clothing. I hiked up the frilly pink nightgown and reached for my panties, which weren’t there. I plunked down clumsily, bewildered, and relieved myself, then sat in shock as I tried to piece together the events of the past however long it had been since Amanda and Desiree had walked out of the bar. Brief flashes returned to me, the woman at the bar… smacking my head on the table… being carried out the door… getting sick on the sidewalk… a sponge bath… the images were so vague, so distorted, nothing made sense. As confused and panicked about where I was and what I was wearing, in between the hammer strikes on my skull, I concluded I was only going to find out by interfacing with that crazy lady as calmly as I could, lest a worse fate than being the subject of a game of dress-up befall me.
After gingerly making my way back to the bedroom, with plenty of assistance from walls and door frames, I took a survey of the surroundings. This was every bit a room for a preschooler, and as girly as it could possibly get, short of neon pink walls. The furniture was all white, some sort of eggshell finish, no doubt for ease of cleanup, and appropriately sized for someone roughly my height. I vaguely recalled wisps of conversation with… Elise was her name?… something about how she had “seen” me many times before, which now seemed more like “stalked” as I considered the situation. My eyes scanned back over to the bed, and something peeking out from under the comforter caught my eye. I moved the blanket out of the way and was horrified to see what looked like a disposable pet training pad spread out exactly where I had slept.
“You okay in there?” the soft voice queried from behind me, and I nearly jumped out of my skin as I whipped around. “Hey, sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Where the… what is this place?” I asked nervously.
She stepped into the room with a sympathetic smile on her face. “Sorry about the décor. It’s the only spare room I had with a bed already made up.”
“So you, like, have a kid?”
“No,” she sighed deeply and looked down. “I was trying to adopt, but the little girl that was coming from Thailand died of some rare disease before the papers were all processed.”
I wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty or even more suspicious. The point that she was trying to get an Asian kid was certainly not lost on me as I continued to struggle at processing the scene. I caught a bit of a head rush, and sat back down on the bed. “Hey, are you okay? I left some Tylenol on the bedstand for you, I figured you’d need it,” she said, coming closer.
Ah, the red pills… I thought to myself. See, you’re just being paranoid… Then something else occurred to me. “Uh, what happened to my clothes?”
Elise sat on the floor next to the bed and chuckled again. “They’re in the dryer, hon. I didn’t think you’d be real happy waking up to the smell of your own sick. It took me twenty minutes with a bottle of leather conditioner to clean up my seats this morning.”
Okay, that’s reasonable… “Sorry about that,” I said, staring at the carpet. “I can’t say as I remember that happening.”
“I’m not surprised. I had to carry you out of there, and you lost it once on the sidewalk. I figured we were in the clear, until you started heaving again right as I pulled into the garage.”
“Did you… give me a bath?”
She sighed and looked down. “Yeah, I guess the mothering instinct took over once I realized you had wet yourself on top of everything else.”
Now it was my turn to be horrified. “I… I what?!” I stammered, my face flushing hot.
“Yeah, you were soaked. Do you have any idea how much you drank last night, you goof? I’ve seen full-grown men do worse with less.”
“Explains the puppy pad,” I muttered, completely humiliated.
“I happened to have a few of those from a pet-sitting adventure I had a few months back, and…” she trailed off, then visibly shifted gears. “Hey, why don’t you get that Tylenol down you and maybe take a shower, wake yourself up a bit. There’s hot coffee downstairs, and I’ll make you some breakfast if you like…”
“Yeah… I’ll probably pass on the food for now, but coffee sounds great.”
“Alright, then. I’ll go check the dryer and leave you a cup on your… I mean… the dresser.” She took on a blush of her own after the obvious slip. “Good hot shower will cure what ails ya,” she announced with a smile as she stood back up. She started to head back out the door, then stopped and said, “Oh, how do you take it?”
“Little cream, lot of sugar.”
“Okay, see you in a bit.” She smiled as she closed the door behind her.
Well, she doesn’t seem to want to kill me, I thought, but there’s still something weird going on in that head…
I went ahead and took the pills she left out for me, then took a long hot shower, which did a world of good for my hangover. When I got back into the bedroom, there was a steaming cup of coffee on a saucer sitting where the water glass had been. There was also a change of clothes laid out on the bed that were definitely not mine, and a note laid on top that read, Sorry, yours are still wet…
The top was every bit as girly as everything else in the room, lilac colored, high necked, with lace trim. The jeans, thankfully, were plain blue, and there were a pair of lace-trimmed ankle socks and a pair of pink cotton panties to complete the ensemble. Grumbling, I dressed, then stopped in front of the full-length mirror on the door. The disturbing part was, I didn’t look at all out of place. Shaking my head, I walked back over to the bed, plunked down, and began to sip on the coffee, brooding over the image I had just witnessed.
A knock on the door came a few minutes later. “Hey, are you decent?”
Not that it matters, you’ve seen me naked… I thought grimly. “Yeah, I’m dressed,” I called back.
She came in, looked me up and down, and chuckled a bit. “Sorry about the outfit. I kinda…”
“Yeah, I know. This stuff was supposed to be for that kid you were adopting,” I said glumly.
“Well, I’m not the one who drank herself stupid last night,” she chided as she leaned back against the desk on the opposite side of the room.
“You’re not the one who had the day from hell yesterday, either,” I shot back sarcastically.
“Sure,” she laughed. “And getting bombed fixed everything, didn’t it, kiddo?”
The “kiddo” comment suddenly jolted out memories of the argument from the previous night, and I reacted without considering the potential consequences. “Okay, so where exactly the fuck am I?” I snapped, scowling.
“Woah there,” she said, stiffening a bit. “First of all, you’re in my house, and that kind of language doesn’t fly around here.”
“Well, if you were my size at my age, you wouldn’t take too kindly to being called ‘kiddo’ all the time, either.”
“Okay, that’s fair, but it doesn’t entitle you to be rude.”
The small talk had gotten old by that point. “Look, lady, I appreciate the hospitality and all, but if it’s all the same to you I’d rather just get back to my car and go home.”
I couldn’t quite read her reaction to this. Her brows furrowed, then she stood up and calmly stated, “That’s fine. As soon as your clothes are dry, you can change and I’ll take you back to the restaurant.” Without another word, she walked out briskly. I heard her footsteps down what sounded like a flight of stairs, and across a hard floor, leaving me alone with my thoughts. A vague feeling of guilt washed over me as I considered my circumstances. I was so worried about her being some sort of creep, I hadn’t even given consideration to what she had done for me in the previous twelve hours. I finished the cup of coffee, then picked up the cup and saucer and cautiously walked out the door through which she had exited.
I found myself at an open railing, staring down into a huge foyer with wood floors. To one side, a wall picked up, and there were two more doors on the same side as the room I just left. To the other, a winding staircase led down into the foyer. I went ahead down the stairs gingerly, my bare feet padding softly on the carpeted steps. When I reached the bottom, I surveyed the scene briefly. Directly ahead of me was a doorway which led into a formal dining room, and a hallway led to my right. “Is that you, Naomi?” her voice called out from down the hall.
I followed the voice and found myself in a huge kitchen, Elise sitting at an island in the center on a bar stool, sipping coffee, dressed in a dark paisley button-down top, tied at the waist, and blue jeans. “Came down for another cup?” she asked, as though the previous altercation had never happened.
“Um… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get all hostile back there,” I stammered out sheepishly.
“Hey, I get it, you’re in a strange house, dressed in strange clothes, with a person you only ‘met’ for about ten minutes before you knocked yourself out in a bar. I’d probably be a bit sketchy myself,” she chuckled. “I’m not sure if I’d have the gall to start mouthing off like you did, but I’d definitely be worried about motives.”
“Um, okay…” I ventured. “So… what were your motives?”
“Direct. I like that,” she laughed. “Truthfully? If you hadn’t been nearly falling down drunk when I approached you, I probably would have taken your first couple of hints and left you there to do whatever you were going to do. But, then, that was pretty much the reason why I came over in the first place, because I could see you were in trouble and getting deeper.”
“But… why bother?” I still couldn’t shake the idea she had other reasons for doing this.
I watched her smile fade a bit as she shifted positions to look straight at me. “I know you’re not going to believe this, but I was taught from a very young age that you get exactly what you give in this world. I know if I were the one sitting in that booth, spiraling out of control like that, I’d want someone to step in before I did something I really regretted.”
I was dumbstruck. “I… don’t know what to say…” I stammered, feeling even more ashamed that I had been so nasty to this person, when all she was trying to do was help.
“Don’t worry about it. You want another cup of coffee?” her smile returned.
“No… I’m good. I gotta get home and get some sh… stuff sorted out,” I said quietly, putting my cup and saucer on the counter next to the sink.
“Alright, then let’s get going,” she said, setting her cup down and slinging her purse across her shoulder. “Your purse is still in the car, and your shoes are next to the front door.” I followed behind her as she walked briskly down the hallway and back out into the foyer, then located my shoes and slipped them on. I started to open the front door, but she stopped me. “This way.” She pointed toward a single door off to the side. She walked over and opened it, stepping aside as I passed through into a huge four-bay garage, in which sat a couple of unique-looking old cars I didn’t recognize and a pristine black Yukon hybrid. I giggled a bit at this last piece.
“What’s so funny?” she asked as she produced a key fob and unlocked the doors on the Yukon.
“Sorry, it just seems like such a contradiction, a massive SUV that’s all green and earth-conscious.”
“Oh, I didn’t buy it to be ‘all green and earth-conscious’,” she laughed. “I bought it because twenty-two miles per gallon is a lot better than fourteen when you’re trekking around all over the countryside buying ‘old junk’, as you called it last night, and it’s pretty tough to carry a six-foot-tall armoire in one of those little Prius numbers.”
I chuckled a bit as I climbed up into the passenger’s side with some difficulty. The intense smell of upholstery cleaner met my nose immediately, and another memory surfaced from the previous night as I sat down, one of me bent over retching in this seat. I blushed and mumbled “Sorry about the…”
“Shush. Truck was overdue for a cleaning anyway,” she said as she buckled up and turned the ignition switch. She pulled her cellphone out and began tapping away, and the garage door opened behind us. She backed the truck out and into a turnaround in the driveway, then tapped a few more buttons, at which point the garage door closed and the gate at the bottom of the drive slid open. She put her phone back in her pocket and off we went.
As we started to roll down the street, however, I felt a wave of dizziness wash over me. I kept silent, but as it intensified, Elise seemed to pick up on it. “Hey, are you okay over there? You’re looking a little green around the gills.”
“I… I’m fine… just need some air…” I stammered, rolling the window down. The salt breeze initially felt good on my face as we neared the Golden Gate, but then the world started to spin all over again.
“Naomi, you don’t look fine,” she argued. “Do you feel sick?”
“No… just dizzy,” I managed. “I’ll be fine, though.”
I closed my eyes for what seemed like only a few seconds. “Hey, you awake over there?” The soft voice pulled me back into consciousness. The truck was parked in front of the bar, my head was splitting and spinning again, and Elise’s hand was on my shoulder.
“Huh? Oh, I’m fine,” I mumbled, gathering my purse.
“Are you sure? I can probably get one of the guys to follow us to your place.” she persisted, a clearly concerned look on her face.
“Really, I’m okay.” Truthfully, I wasn’t, but I’d had quite enough of the “kindness of strangers” for one twenty-four-hour period, and wanted nothing more than to just get back to my crummy apartment and try to figure out how I was going to come up with enough money to pay the rent another month. I quickly exited the truck and said, “Thanks for the ride,” closing the door before she had a chance to lodge any further protests.
I made my way, with some difficulty, up to my Crown Vic and climbed into the elevated driver’s seat. Shaking my head in vain hopes to clear the buzzing noises, I fired up the tired old engine. I took a deep breath and threw it into drive, stopping to check traffic in my side view mirror before pulling out onto the street. After I made a couple of turns, I noticed Elise’s truck still behind me, and I thought, What the hell? Now she’s following me?
I had little time to consider this, as a powerful wave of nausea hit me, and I doubled over to the side and retched all over the center console. Before I could so much as right myself back into a sitting position, I heard horns blare and brakes screech, and then the lights went out.
Time may as well have stopped, for as much as I was aware of it. I felt like I was chained to the bottom of a shallow pool of water. Voices came and went, but they were muffled and distant. There was the sensation of motion, but I could not move, or at least I couldn’t tell if anything was moving, as my head was rigidly in place. I recall being asked my name a lot, and where I was, but when I tried to move my lips, there was no sound. Every time I tried to open my eyes, there was painfully intense light, and there were faces, but they were distorted and misshapen. Pain was a constant friend. My whole body ached, but my left side especially. From within the chaos, during moments of lucidity, I struggled vainly to piece together the images into some sense of what had transpired, only to lose touch as I sank back into the darkness, into fractured dreams of overdue bills and unfinished resumes and Bill and Amanda and Okaasan, seemingly everything in my life that had gone wrong or was going wrong all visiting me in that same window of time until…
My eye was pried open, and a penlight shone into it. “Pupils are… Hey! Welcome back to the land of the living!” a man’s voice chuckled. I tried to open my eyes on my own after he let loose, but the overhead light was blinding, and I squinted against its glare. “Hey, we can dim those for you a bit here,” he spoke again. “I’m Dr. Mattson. Can you tell me who you are?”
“Naomi…” I croaked, still disoriented. “Naomi Hashimura.”
“Good, good. Do you know where you are?”
“No… but I’m going to take a wild guess that this is a hospital. Any chance I could get a drink?”
“Sure, we can get that for you in just a minute. Yes, this is a hospital. Do you know why you’re here?”
I tried again to piece the images together, but I still couldn’t make any sense of them. “All I know is, some crazy person I met last night dropped me off where my car was, and now I’m here.”
“Well, you were in a pretty bad car accident in between those points,” he said, raising his eyebrow.
I looked down for the first time since I woke up. There was a huge blue wrapping covering most of my left leg, secured with velcro, with my bare knee poking out, and my left arm was in a sling. “What…” I started.
“Your left kneecap was dislocated completely. You’re not going to be putting any weight on that leg for the next week or so. Your shoulder is just bruised, and should be fine by the time you get out of here in a couple days. You also got yourself a nice concussion, and from what your friend told me, it was your second in 12 hours, which is probably why you were in and out for such a long time, in between being sedated.” he explained
“Wait… What do you mean, a long time…” I asked timidly, looking up at the clock on the wall, which read 7:30. “That’s pm, right?”
“Yes, it’s 7:30 pm Saturday evening,” he stated flatly.
“Shit!” I exclaimed. “My electric bill! They cut the power at my apartment! What the hell am I gonna do?!” I sat up, then quickly dropped back to the pillow as my left side protested the sudden movement. “Fuck!” I groaned.
“First of all, you need to calm down,” Dr. Mattson said sternly. “You’re gonna be sore for a while, and sudden movements will make it worse. You’ve got a pain pump right there; you might want to get familiar with it.” He pointed to what looked like a game-show buzzer attached to a cord dangling on the side of the bed. I snatched the device and began to hammer away at the button as my knee screamed its dissatisfaction with my previous hasty movement.
“Second, that’s only going to give you measured doses at specific intervals,” he laughed. “I doubt you’ll be still awake by the time you’re allowed another one, considering your size.”
Between the pain and the sudden shock of realizing the gap in time, I was hardly in the mood for humor. “Anything else I should be aware of?” I snapped.
“Well, your head CT was negative, which is a good thing.”
As he was talking, Elise came into the room. All at once, I flashed back to her truck in my rearview, and I bristled. “You!” I shouted. “What the hell were you doing following me around, you stalker?!”
Her face took on a look like I’d just shot her parents. “I… was trying to make sure you made it home alright… You didn’t look very well when you got out of my truck. I didn’t mean to…”
Dr. Mattson interrupted, “I wouldn’t be so quick to pop off at someone who has been here nearly nonstop the last day and a half waiting for me to wake up. We should all have such devoted friends.”
“I…” I was stunned. “You barely know me. Why are you doing this?”
Elise sat down on the bed and took my hand. “What was I supposed to do, just let the ambulance cart you off and forget you ever existed? Hell, it’s at least part my fault this happened, I should have been a lot more forceful with you when I realized you were half out of it in the truck. The least I could do was be here when you came to, so you weren’t completely among strangers.”
That last word triggered a few more synapses in my brain. “What about Okaasan? Has anyone contacted her?”
“I took the liberty of pulling numbers from your phone and trying to get in touch with your family. Suffice it to say, that didn’t go real well.” Elise sighed.
“What do you mean?” I asked suspiciously.
“Hey, listen, I gotta do the rest of my rounds. If you need anything, just hit the call button, okay?” Dr. Mattson said, smiling as he walked out of the room.
“Once I explained to her that you weren’t in critical condition, your mother coldly thanked me for the information and hung up. I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but I’ve not seen anyone of any sort of Asian descent show up here looking for you. I also called a number you have for ‘Sobo’, but…”
The name stung me immediately. “Yeah, that’s old. My grandmother lives with my mother now, ever since she had the stroke. My mother’s been mad at me for a while now, because I haven’t found a real job yet, and with her having to take care of Sobo, she’s even more intolerant than usual. We had a bad argument over the phone a couple days ago, and she told me if I could only be bothered to call when I needed something, don’t bother calling at all.” My head dropped, and I fiddled with my wristband as I talked.
“That’s terrible!” she gasped. “How could someone be like that to their only child?”
“You don’t understand. Okaasan’s still stuck in the old ways, just as she was raised,” I said as a gentle buzz began to fill my head, and my skin tingled ever so slightly. “She didn’t go to college, she got married to a Japanese man with a prestigious job, then had me, and her father was proud of her. After Touchan died, when I was very young, Okaasan was very angry. She always felt that she threw all her hopes and dreams away to be a good shufu and please her father, and then got stuck with a kid she didn’t want. She never remarried; she saw marriage as little more than being a baita, depending on a man for everything.” By the time I finished, my eyelids were getting very heavy.
“Sounds like your mother’s a pretty bitter woman. I admit, my Japanese is pretty terrible, but does baita mean what I think it does?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, my head nodding involuntarily. “Prostitute.”
“That’s what I thought.” I felt her hand brush the hair out of my eyes. “I see you found your morphine pump,” she chuckled as I continued to fade. “Why don’t you lie back for a bit, and I’ll see about getting some dinner in here for you?” Before I could muster a response, I felt her hand press my head back onto the mattress and hold steady on my forehead as a motor whirred and the bed began to recline, taking me with it. Her soft fingertips brushed my cheek, and I drifted off.