A red Harley Davidson touring bike that was heavily modified to remind people of a lit up sci-fi speedster traveled down the silent Dover road. It's helmet clad rider, Shea, had one thought in the forefront of his mind:
He hated Dover.
It was nothing like London where he could lose himself in the action that cycled through England's center like a heart cycling blood in the human body.
Dover was still and stagnant. He could stay there for a short while and could be driven mad by his suffocating thoughts or the ghosts of his past. In that sense it was an open wound that would get infected as time went on without any possibility of healing.
The deeper he ventured into the countryside, the more his past flashed before his eyes.
The flames devouring his childhood home.
Firefighters trying their best to destroy the inferno.
Him as a twelve year old screaming through his tears at his parents’ bodies to wake up and tell him this was all a nightmare.
Suddenly he veered the bike to the side of the road and disembarked, throwing his helmet off and screaming in a desperate measure to clear his head of what happened ten years ago.
The blackened land with scattered debris littering the once picturesque property with a large pile of broken debris meant that he was at his destination sooner than he would have liked.
Why was he here again when he should been at his apartment in Hyde Park studying for the midterms?
He was a second year student at Oxford, striving for a degree in History. He didn't need to dive into his own personal history when his life at the current moment was a mere blip in the grand scheme of things.
His pocket vibrated and he pulled out an old Nokia phone, one that could be used as a weapon and still remain in perfect condition, thanks to the quality of it’s design and construction, and noticed an unopened text message.
"Running late, be there in 10 min."
That's right. He was here because of her. Otherwise he would be holed up in his cozy apartment dealing with the older lady a floor down trying to convince him to get a roommate so someone could take care of him.
His first meeting with this girl was over the phone. How she got his number he wasn't too certain but it was interesting at best.
Since he was here, he might as well say hello to his parents’ graves. It had been several years since his last visit and a lot had happened since he entered Oxford.
He ventured towards the pile, stopping a few feet away. "All right Mum, Dad? How's heaven? I hope that you're not too busy up there, and I'm sorry that I haven't been here. Life has been blinding and hectic which explains why I’ve absent.” He cleared his throat and shifted his weight. “I uh.. I got into Oxford just like I said I would. It’s the bees knees and I’m enjoying every second of it.” He quietly laughed and rubbed his arms in an effort to get more comfortable. “I'm actually here because a girl. She’s a yank that ringed me up and asked to meet her here saying that it’s important because of you. I hope she shows up." He started laughing again but it ended up shaky at best. "I hope you’re happy... God I miss you so much. There's not a day that I don't regret saying what I wanted to say to you. I love you so much."
Shea wiped some tears away as he was met with silence from the grave.
He briefly registered a car pulling up at the property and then driving away but he didn't give it anymore thought as he cleared his throat, doing his best to put on a mask in case his visitor showed earlier than he expected.
But he jumped when he felt a hand touch his shoulder, whipping around to see a woman around his age of Asian descent, dressed for the early spring weather standing in the center of the giant scar like a colored blip in a black and white picture. She was rather beautiful and if they were in a more casual setting like a pub or a club, he would have asked her out.
She seemed surprised and stepped away, bowing. "Sumimasen. Sorry, it wasn't my place to interrupt your moment with your parents' grave. I also apologize for running behind, my grandfather's friends were caught up in traffic."
He visibly relaxed while she stood up. "Are you Aiko Tsukino?"
"Hai. Are you Shea Alister?"
He nodded. "So how come you chose this place for our meeting?"
"Because I thought I should pay my respects to your parents’ grave and give their story some closure at the same time," Aiko answered, pulling out a small incense kit from a leather shoulder bag and placing it in front of the grave.
He tilted his head and watched out of curiosity as she got on her knees, lit one of the sticks before setting it back down, and clapped her hands together as if offering a silent prayer.
Silence settled in again as he glanced around, not quite so sure what to do in this new cultural development he was witnessing.
Once she was finished, Aiko stood up and brushed black ash off of her blue peacoat dress and black leggings. She turned towards him with the grace of a ballerina dancer and offered a small smile in his direction. "I hope that I didn't keep you waiting for too long."
Shea shook his head and rubbed his neck. "In all honesty, Miss Ts-Ts..."
"Yes. I'm sorry but I have a little trouble with pronouncing Japanese names. Any road, I would feel a little bit more comfortable if we talked anywhere but here. All the literal rubbish here don't sit right with me, though since you were so insistent on the cell about coming I couldn't really talk you out of it. I'm glad you didn't blow out though."
Aiko's smile grew at his comment. "I would have to agree that meeting where your parents died is rather odd, but it's important that we meet here as it was my parents' wish to come here."
"How come you're here instead of your parents?"
Aiko's ocean eyes stared at the ground as her smile faltered. "My parents died in the tsunami that struck Taiwan back in 2009. Since my brother and I were too young back then, our grandfather was in charge of their estate until I was of legal age. It was only when I graduated two years ago did I learn that they wanted to come here to pay back what your parents did for them."
Shea felt his stomach drop and readied himself for the worst. "What do you mean?"
Aiko bit her lip as she continued to avoid eye contact with him.
She finally met his mismatched eyes. "It's my family's fault that your parents were killed."
His blood froze as she turned away, covering her mouth as if regretting what was said.
Now Shea had no idea what to do.
This woman, this invader, had shown up out of the blue during one of the worst times in the school year and demanded his time just to tell him that it was basically her fault that someone killed his parents and burned his home to the ground ten years ago.
What was socially acceptable? Should he get angry and throw every curse word in the book at her? Should he forgive her? Leave?
What was the right thing to do?
He clenched his fist as anger boiled up inside and didn't even think of his next action.
Aiko jumped and stared at him as he blindly threw his phone with a shout of “Bloody ‘ell!” which was followed by a series of deep breaths.
One, two, three, breathe.
Finally he had calmed down enough to meet her gaze and felt a brief pang of sympathy for her as she looked like she was going to get hit.
"Sorry. My father told me a long time ago that if I got angry that I redirect my anger at an object and let it go that way."
"It's alright." Her voice was barely a whisper before she collected herself again. "Do you need a moment?"
"No. What I need is an explanation for why you would say such a thing, and it better be a bloody good one."
Aiko nodded. "Is there somewhere we can sit? I fear that my story will take some time."
"Come on." Shea beckoned as he led her to a hill not too far from the property that faced the sea. He sat on the cool green grass and offered her a place beside him.
She kneeled down and then sat on her thighs with her knees together, presumably in a lady-like fashion of her culture. Afterwards she pulled out some aged photos from her bag and handed them to him. "These are some photos of our parents together thirty years ago. From what I was told by my father, he met your father while in Shibuya Station."
"Right. My dad was in Japan at the time trying to get some ideas for a movie. You see he was a composer that was often hired to create film soundtracks like John Williams and had been hired to create a score for a spy movie that became a cult favorite. He told me that he was chasing after my mother whom he met on one of the sets for the movie in Switzerland and left to do some sort of competition in Tokyo." Shea added.
"Was your mother an actor?"
"No, she was a dance choreographer and had instructed this large ballroom like scene for the movie. But she also performed and from what dad told me was one of the best and it was love at first sight but mum would disagree and say that his persistence won her over. It turned out that she liked him as well when he found her right before it was her turn to go up on stage." Shea smiled as he fondly stared at the photo of a younger version of his parents.
"My mother owned a flower shop and had created a blog celebrating art. She was with your mother to deliver some flowers and get an interview for her blog while my father was working his second job scouting movie locations when he met your father. Since his first job was to be in charge of finances of the flower shop, he led your father to your mother."
Shea chuckled. "That's when he confessed his eternal love for my mum in front of an international audience and got kicked off the stage. It embarrassed her but it worked out as six months later they got married at some old fashioned temple in japan. I don't remember the name because I'm so bad with Japanese. All I know is that it looked like it should be on some postcard because it was so pretty. I didn't know that our parents were friends."
Aiko hummed in agreement. "My parents told me that they were the closest friends they ever had, but as time went on things didn't work out for my family. My mom was Japanese-American and was treated as an outsider by her peers. Her flower shop was barely getting enough money to keep going and my father got laid off from his second job. When I was born, they didn't have enough money to keep themselves afloat and there was some... complications when I was a baby."
He had handed her pictures back to her and frowned at the direction this story was taking. "Complications?"
"I was born prematurely and since my mother was considered an outsider, my father had to work three jobs in order to pay for the care I needed. Then my father met a man named Testuya Yamamoto through one of his clients, who offered him enough money to save the flower shop, pay off our bills, and pay for the care I needed in the hospital. At first we thought it was an act of kindness, but we were sorely mistaken."
"I assume he was a loan shark or low level wanker right?" Shea guessed, picking up a pebble and throwing it over the white dover cliffs.
"He was the head of the Yamamoto Yakuza clan." She answered.
He stopped before throwing another pebble and stared at her. "A what?"
"Yakuza." Aiko repeated, making eye contact with him again and shifted uncomfortably at his blank stare. "What?"
"You know that between the two of us, you're the only one that actually speaks and understands Japanese right? Would you mind elaborating on what that word means?"
"Oh, right." She nodded with moving a few strands of hair out of her face. "Yakuza is the Japanese equivalent of the western world's mafia families. From what I heard, the Yamamoto family was one of the most feared yakuza at the time. Testuya had placed my family in a lot of debt and expected them to pay in a year."
"What would have happened if your family didn't meet the deadline?"
"From what I understood from my grandfather, he wanted me to marry his son so their family could have connections in the US. I think the connection was my grandfather, who is a genetic engineer but I'm not sure. My father worked really hard trying to get the money, but the family scared off all of their customers making it near impossible to earn the money."
"But you're here, so that must mean that your family paid off the debt right?" He asked, turning his full attention on her. He wanted her to finish her story, feeling that pang of sympathy return and start to grow.
"They did, thanks to your family. My father was exhausted from work when your father came to visit. He ended taking my father to the hospital and learning about the debt they had acclaimed. A few days later your father returned and handed mine a check with three million on it, allowing my family to pay the debt."
"So if my family helped pay off your debt, why do you blame yourself for my parents' death?"
"Because they were outsiders that intervened in something they shouldn't have. As soon as the debt was paid off, the Yamamoto family sought to kill your entire family but only got your parents. Once your parents’ identity was brought to light, the Yamamoto family committed suicide before Interpol could throw them in jail. So because your parents helped us, it's my family's fault for their deaths." Aiko answered, trying to mask her breaking voice.
Shea watched as the mask broke and she started crying, feeling sympathetic towards her but awkward at the same time.
He wasn't the best when it came to people and there was a cultural difference between the two. What was proper in regards to comforting her?
He approached both her and the situation cautiously, like if he had encountered a hurt and frightened stray animal in the city.
Placing his hand on her shoulder, he flinched when she stopped crying. "All right now?”
Aiko nodded her head as she wiped away her tears. "Sumimasen. I must have lost control there for a second, but I'm fine now." She was smiling once again.
He removed his hand and leaned back, breathing a sigh of relief. "That's good, I'm not the best person when it comes to comforting others. But... if you don't mind me asking, what did your family do with the extra coin?"
"Well my father went into culinary school and became a world famous pastry chef, usually creating wedding cakes for celebrities while my mother kept her flower shop open. Whatever was left after that was stored into a trust fund in your parents’ name. We didn't have to worry about money for a long time, even when my younger brother Hibiki was born."
"So where's your brother? I mean you mentioned earlier that your parents died in 2009."
"He's with my grandfather in Hawaii. He just started high school and from what I heard he's been enjoying his popularity. My grandfather has been enjoying his retirement and he was the one that found your phone number when he heard that I was going to England."
"Actually I was going to ask that. Why did you come across the pond? I doubt that I’m the only reason for the trip."
"I got accepted into the University of Bristol, and before I left to find living arrangements he gave me my parents' will and your phone number. I figured that before I start attending school I would fulfill my parents' wish of repaying the kindness that was extended to them twenty years ago." Aiko stood, with Shea mirroring her action, and started rifling through her bag. "I have an appointment in several hours to look at apartments in Bristol so before I go I wanted to give you this."
He looked at the items in her hands and let out a deep breath.
She was holding a bank statement recording the transactions between their families for two decades and a check for 6 million.
"Bloody… H-how?" Shea asked, quickly looking up at her in absolute surprise.
"My father told his clients about your parents' kindness and each one donated to the trust fund. It's surprising how much money can add up in ten years. This is the last thing that my parents wanted to do, so would you please take it?"
He stared at the check as he processed Aiko's story.
Her smile faltered the longer he stared at the check.
He then smiled and pushed the statements and check back towards her. "I can't accept it."
"My mum and dad taught me that acts of kindness should be expressed without expecting repayment. Even though what they did resulted in their deaths, I'm sure that they would be happy to learn that it caused more good than bad in the long run. Besides you gave me something better than coin. You see no one told me what was going on, so for ten years I've been living with not knowing what happened to those responsible or why my mum and dad were targeted. But now, I have closure to what happened, which is more than I could ask for."
"So what should happen to the money?"
Shea shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sure someone needs it more than I do. My godfather helped make sure there was enough coin for me to live comfortably with the coin my parents left behind along with his donations, I’m easy like that. Can I ask you something?"
"I have a flat in London near Hyde Park that has an extra room and I know how hard it is to find something so close to uni when the year is halfway over. Would you mind taking a look at it and see if it's something you like?"
Aiko twirled some strands of her black hair with her fingers.
Shea laughed. “Look I’m not dodgy. I just thought of repaying you for this kind act. In addition, it could get the nippy old bat that lives below me off my back about finding a responsible flatmate. The room is on a separate story of the flat so you'll have plenty of space, and it has all the mod cons. You don't have to pay anything. So would you like to take a look?"
She let loose a giggle. "Sure I'd be delighted to."
He extended his hand to her, which she took and allowed him to lead her to his bike.
"Hang on a second," she said, running back to the pile of debris. As soon as she was in front of the incense stick she pulled out the old picture of their parents and a rose, placing them behind the burning stick.
After uttering another quick prayer, she ran back to the bike and accepted the helmet Shea was holding out for her while he placed her beret and bag into one of his saddlebags.
Once they were ready, he started the bike and drove away from the grave.
This time with a contented smile on his face.
- Title: Midnight Rider
- Artist: Liberated Puppeteer
Soooooo this is my first time posting anything here on Gaia.
This is a simple short story assignment that I had submitted for my college creative writing class. Everyone that has read it has enjoyed it so I thought about giving it a go here.
I may not be the most talented S.O.B. here on Gaia but I hope that someone likes this story. Ta~
- Date: 04/06/2015
- Tags: midnight rider
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