A/N: Been collecting dust on the hard drive for about four years now. Title and premise come from Jane Siberry's seven-minute synth-rock opera of the same name.
All characters belong to Toei/Kodansha/Saban/Disney/whoever owns Digimon now. The "goldfish tender" bit is from The Simpsons; TK's line about the Drain-O is a Japanified nod to the cinematic masterpiece Adventures in Babysitting.
mimi on the beach
by scorpio sunday
It was a beautiful day.
It was around noon, and the sun was glaring bright, like a massive celestial high-beam, in the baby blue sky. So bright that every color around you was bleached a shade lighter, and it almost hurt to open your eyes. I was spared it for at least the time being, having sought partial shade on the bus to Newport. My KT Opticas helped too.
So far, I was mildly disappointed in California. It was colorful, all right, but hardly the freak parade I'd been expecting; compared to the maze of acid-trip architecture that was metropolitan Odaiba, it was downright rustic. Somehow I'd pictured Santa Ana, home of the almighty Rickenbacker, to be a bit…more…well, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't had mental flashes of Haruko from FLCL playing bass in an American-flag bikini. (What, and the Americans don't think of us Nihonjin as a nation of sandal-wearing goldfish tenders? Surely I'm allowed at least one offensively stereotypical notion per country.)
Then again, I'd only been here a couple of days, and I hadn't set foot outside of Orange County. I was staying with a middle-aged Japanese-American couple, the Sakamotos, who'd signed up to be hosts for the exchange program. They had no kids, but lived with Mr. Sakamoto's mother, who I suspected was enough of a handful. She was pushing eighty, and was pretty spry for her age, not to mention sharp. The night before, when I'd offered to help with dinner, she hopped animatedly around the kitchen, pouring rice in the cooker, telling me about the part of her girlhood spent in Manzanar, and making derogatory comments about her daughter-in-law's cooking. The younger Mrs. Sakamoto just smiled tight-lipped at her, as she'd no doubt been doing for years. I had to force myself not to laugh.
The California trip was an early eighteenth birthday present from my father. When I'd first mentioned to him that Odaiba Secondary was offering its older students the chance to jet off to America for the summer for the low, low price of ¥350000, he'd noncommittally answered that he'd see, if my grades were good enough. Under normal circumstances, that could be safely construed as 'not a chance in hell'. But after a month or so of not-so-subtle hints (packing California rolls in his lunch, "Route California" greeting him from the stereo when he came home from work), he'd changed his mind.
I knew the clincher was Mai, whom, as much as I didn't like her, I was silently grateful to. Mai Takemura was a 24-year-old intern at the TV station who'd started out doing little more than shuffling papers and fetching my dad's coffee. Thanks to the fact that they'd been getting increasingly cozy lately, she'd not only been promoted to writing the "Score in Four" recap, she'd been spending a lot more time around the apartment. She was the second real girlfriend my workaholic father had had since he and Mom divorced, and he was obviously besotted with her. I disliked Mai for a multitude of reasons. She was a pretty hardcore materialist obsessed with flaunting her goods—she had a particularly annoying way of whipping out her Louis Vuitton handbag with such flourish that it'd knock out anyone within close range—and I couldn't count the number of times she'd convinced my dad to take her out to dinner on a whim, thereby leaving me at home alone with an elaborate spread I'd spent two hours making, that no one else would eat. But my dislike was mostly founded on the suspicion that as soon as she'd ridden my father to a satisfactory rung on the corporate ladder, she'd drop him like a bad habit. I never voiced this concern, of course, but I worried about it all the time.
"Oh, Hiroaki, let him go," she'd purred to my father when I'd mentioned the trip again, on a rare instance when the three of us were out to dinner together. "It'll be a good opportunity for him to see America." And a good opportunity for them to spend time alone, she didn't bother to add. My father had mumbled into his mug of Shochikubai that well, maybe, it'd be an educational experience for me. Broadening my horizons and such and such, blah blah blah. I didn't have to look under the table to know her hand was sliding into his lap.
His motive for sending me away didn't bother me, though. My own motive for leaving was far from educational purposes.
Akira was pissed off when I told him where I was going, irate that the Teenage Wolves would have to limp through the summer on only three paws. Takahashi pretended to be, for Akira's sake, but he'd just started going out with some girl from his brief calc class and was more interested in her than rehearsing. Yutaka barely flinched—he'd gone all serious in the last year and spent most of his time studying, worrying that he might be spending a year as a ronin before getting into Tokyo U. Jyou Kido Syndrome, I guess. I'd faced it a long time ago—once we graduated high school, the band was basically over. I was surprised we'd made it last as long as we had. I was bummed it was ending, but it was inevitable. We were all going in different directions. I knew eventually Akira would realize that, so I wasn't too torn up when he told me he'd break up the band if I didn't come back soon.
My little brother, Takeru, thought it was cool. He'd said he wanted to stow away in the baggage hold and accompany me there. It took me a while to realize he was being serious.
"Hey, if you can pony up another ¥350000, I'm sure I can get the school to pull a few strings," I told him half-jokingly on the phone, one night while preparing another culinary masterpiece that would end up going to waste, thanks to Mai's impulsive craving for French cuisine.
"Pssh. Mom would never do that. She'd just say Dad should pay for it, since he hardly ever sees me anyway." I could hear him eating something on the other end. It snapped. Probably pocky.
"You could come over to visit more than once a month, you know," I pointed out as I took a steaming pot off its burner. "Of course, now that Mai's around, you'd be lucky to see him for more than five minutes."
"At least they're always out of the house!" TK crunched loudly to punctuate this. Maybe it was Pretz. "I've got to put up with Shigeru 'Call Me Shiggy' Eto and his lame attempts at being my buddy. What, does he think he's in the running for Stepfather of the Year? Loser."
I snorted. Mom's new husband was a bit on the namby-pamby side, a teacher who dressed like a bad Lupin the Third impersonator and went overboard in trying to make nice with TK and me. Fortunately, I didn't have to see him much. TK, who was resigned to live in the same apartment with him, suffered the brunt of his personality, like his cornball 'responsibility' lectures if my brother was out two minutes past curfew. I know my father was hardly a peach while they were married, but I couldn't believe Mom preferred this tool over him.
"Hey, maybe he's trying to hide something," I joked, digging in the pantry for a package of dried cuttlefish. "The whole Sensitive Man act is really a front for his secret identity as an ex-Yakuza or some shit."
"Yeah, right. Anyway, that's why I've got to get out of the house this summer. He's trying to talk Mom into making me take some college exam preparation class at his high school—that he happens to be teaching, so he can support his income during the off-season. First of all, I'm three years away from graduating. Second, I don't have to go to summer school this year, and I'm sure as hell not wasting my vacation to sit in a room with him all day. I'm telling you, Yamato, if I don't get out of here, I'm gonna spike his Calpis with Drain-O."
I laughed so hard I almost dropped the phone. "Don't do that, TK. I'd have to turn myself in as an accessory. Besides, I think Kari would miss you. You wouldn't want her turning to Daisuke on those cold lonely nights, would you?"
"Aw, shut up." I could clearly see my brother's face, grinning and blushing red. TK had been officially dating Tai's little sister for over a year now, to absolutely no one's surprise. I'd long been of the opinion that Angemon and Angewomon were a blatant example of foreshadowing. Plus, they'd just always looked cute together. "He more or less gave up on her, anyway. It only took him a year to realize we were going out. I guess the goggles were cutting off the blood flow to his brain."
TK's sense of humor has come a long way in the past few years, but even he can't resist a gogglehead joke now and then. Neither can I, for that matter.
I told Tai I was leaving for the summer. He had already accepted his fate as a ronin, having failed the college entrance exams, and suggested we go out after school to celebrate.
"Celebrate what?" I asked as we headed into town.
"Uncertain futures," he grinned. "At this rate, it could easily be another three years before I get in, if at all. I'll probably end up working as a delivery boy and having shoujo-manga-like misadventures, until the university tells me to shit or get off the pot. Meanwhile, you're not even going to college, and the Wolves are splitting up. At least you'll get to pick up some California babes in the meantime."
Oh, Tai, if you only knew. "To uncertain futures," I agreed. We ended up toasting Ramune bottles. I'd have preferred a cold Kirin Ichiban, but Tai and I were still two years shy of legal drinking age, and we unfortunately no longer had Jyou (and his brother Shin's borrowed ID) around to make beer runs for us.
I told the others as I saw them, except for Jyou, holed up cramming for physiology finals at Tokyo University, who I emailed. I decided I'd tell Sora last. Before I got a chance to, though, she showed up at my apartment one day after school.
She stood on the threshold, looking uncertain, as though she wasn't sure she should have come. I was surprised to see her, but tried not to let on.
"Kari said you're going to California this summer," she said softly, without making eye contact.
"Yeah—yeah, I am." I scratched my head.
"Can I come in?" she asked.
I nodded, remembering the strict warning my father had placed in effect three years ago, that Sora was absolutely not allowed in the apartment when he was not present (a rule we'd broken more than once, and which Dad had thankfully never discovered, despite the incident with Sora leaving her kneesocks draped over the back of the couch). It didn't matter now, anyway. Sora was tightening her grip on her yellow tote bag; glancing at the walls, the Hokusai print over the couch, everywhere but at me; and looking as uncomfortable as I felt. My father needn't worry about walking in on us in the midst of heavy necking, or anything else today.
He hadn't had to worry about that in a long time.
I offered her a seat, but she declined, shifting from one foot to the other. "I can't stay too long…I'm meeting someone at four-thirty."
Meeting someone? Like a date? Is it a he, and do I know him? At one time, not so long ago, I wouldn't have been able to prevent this barrage of questions from spilling out. Now, I didn't care nearly enough to ask them. Though I was still a little curious.
Just a little.
"So, what part of California are you visiting?" Sora inquired in an abrupt, formal tone, as though she were asking if I wanted the Sympathy wreath with white or yellow mums. I couldn't blame her. I wanted this obligatory line of questioning over with as badly as she did.
"Uh, Southern. Santa Ana." I stuffed my fidgeting hands into my pockets.
"That's not too far from where Mimi lives."
"Yeah." There was a big lint deposit crammed into one corner. I concentrated on rolling it into a tiny ball.
"Maybe you'll get to see her." Sora's gaze wandered briefly over to the wall clock. The tip of her tongue flicked out and traced the outline of her lip, slick with rust-red gloss. Since when did Sora wear tinted lip gloss? Two coats of cherry Chapstick and she thought she'd gone all out. For her date, I thought. Funny, I had certainly never been worthy of lip gloss. Not that I minded. I wasn't a big fan of having residual goo on my face after make-out sessions.
This scintillating conversation continued in the same vein for about forty-five more seconds, until Sora finally tore her eyes away from the row of tiny red-lacquered Buddhas on the mantelpiece and looked directly at me. "Yamato?"
I looked up in surprise. "Yeah?"
"Do you regret it? I mean…us?"
For a split second, I thought she was referring to the breakup. It had been her idea, after all. Although I hadn't had any real objections at the time. Even as I found I had less and less to say to her, and made up one excuse after another to avoid spending time with her…I hadn't had the balls to just break it off. I suppose I was subconsciously thinking of my parents or some shit—even though it certainly wasn't as if Sora and I were married with two kids. Nor would we ever be.
But I'd be lying if I said our relationship was entirely without merit. We'd had a lot of good times, too, especially in the beginning. And I did come out of the whole thing considerably wiser for the wear.
I half-grinned at her. "Nah."
Sora smiled back, looking relieved. "I don't either. I just…I just wish things had turned out differently."
Now I didn't know what the hell she was talking about. I didn't really feel like getting into all that again, though, so I just kind of gave a noncommittal shrug and a nod that meant absolutely nothing.
Sora glanced again at the clock and started for the door. "Well…I've got to go or I'll be late. I guess I'll see you when you get back, then?" She regarded me expectantly over her shoulder.
"Sure." I nodded again, making no motion to get the door for her. It was kind of assholish for me to just stand there, I guess, but at the same time I supposed it was pretty much in keeping with typical ex-boyfriend etiquette.
"Say hi to Mimi for me." She smiled briefly, then turned and shut the front door behind her. I stood there for a moment, staring at the space she'd vacated and wondering about the possible implications of that remark, before I went to lock it.
All this time, I'd never let on what had planted this spark, this sudden overwhelming desire to drop my life and flee to California, to anyone around me. I hadn't let anyone see it, hadn't told anyone about it. Not even my little brother, who'd probably have been as enthused about it as I was. He had kind of a cutesy thing for her when he was about eight.
Now, I was sitting with it on the bus, running my thumb across the postmark, around the dog-eared corners, over the glossy photographed wave, a shirtless surfer clinging to it with his board, the crest curling like Hokusai's Great Wave Over Edo on the print over our couch. My eyes still traveling across that one succinct line of pink-inked scrawl, over and over.
Wish you were here.
And below it, Mimi.
Do you really mean it, Mimi? Is this just one of those idle attempts to stay in touch with your little childhood friends in Odaiba? Like the perfunctory calls home you made every month, usually to Sora or Hikari, but once in a while to one of us guys, until you suddenly became too busy or important or American to bother?
And if it is, then why? Why me, why now, when I haven't heard a single word from you in almost two years? Did you mean to write Jyou's address instead of mine? He was the one carrying the torch for you, after all. What about that famous actor's kid you were seeing in New York—that Michael guy? The one Tai used to refer to as the swap-meet gaijin version of Yamato Ishida? Are you just projecting those old feelings onto me? I'm not him, Mimi. Frankly, I'm a lot better-looking.
Or do you really wish for it? Do you wish that one day I'll suddenly come into view, strolling across the white sands, and wave to you as you're watching from the sea? Would you run to me then? Or would you pretend you never saw me at all?
I guess I'm about to find out.
I really hope it's not the latter. I really hope I'm right about this feeling I have in the pit of my stomach. I really hope I didn't come thousands of miles across the Pacific only to prove myself a damn fool.
I wonder what our friends would think of me doing this. I wonder if they'd laugh.
I wonder if Sora knew all along.
The bus shuddered to a final stop, and I had to stop wondering.
I called the Tachikawas' house from a pay phone, at a grocery called Albertson's on Balboa Boulevard. I'd initially stopped inside to grab something to cool off—my chosen outfit of black slacks and gunmetal gray button-down shirt, perfectly seasonable back in Japan, were only working as insulation here—and had ended up loitering in the soft-drink aisle for twenty minutes. Stalling, I should say. But it was impossible to make a timely decision when faced with so many options. Dr Pepper, Dr. Thunder, Mr. Pibb, Dr. K, Big Daddy K…the mind boggled.
While the phone rang, I glanced idly up at a flier taped to the side of the supermarket, advertising a "cute beach bungalow" newly available for sale to the tune of 2.5 million dollars. One didn't have to be an expert on conversion rates to know that was a fuck of a lot of money. I knew Mimi's dad had made a cool mint dabbling in stocks during their stint in New York, but I wasn't aware until now just how much it must cost them to live out here.
Her mother answered while I was in mid-gulp. The piercing trill of her heavily accented "Hello, Tachikawas!" in my ear caught me off guard, and I ended up snorting part of the beverage instead.
"Uh, hi, Satoe-san. It's Yamato Ishida. Remember, Mimi's friend from Odaiba?" I asked carefully in Japanese, wincing as my sinuses burned from carbonation.
"Yamato-kun! Of course!" Mrs. Tachikawa bubbled, promptly diving back into her native Nihongo. "It's been so long since we heard anything from you! I know Mimi-chan will be thrilled—"
"Yeah, that's why I'm calling," I interrupted, a little too on-edge to bother with the pleasantries. "I'm actually in town—I'm here for the summer—and I was wondering if Mimi was around—?"
"Oh, she went to the beach this morning with her friends, saying don't expect her back until dinnertime. Yamato-kun, why don't you join us for dinner? I'm making daikon-ginger stir fry with strawberries."
Ugh. And it had almost sounded good until the last part. The woman had been nursing an unfortunate obsession with strawberries for as long as I'd known her. Her husband really ought to skip the tennis bracelet this year and spring for some cooking lessons for her birthday—but then again, if memory served, he was the only one who actually liked her atrocities.
"Ah…sure, Satoe-san," I conceded, miming a finger down my throat. Well, the Sakamotos had been telling me I needed to try some place called In-N-Out Burger. I could probably stop off there before sitting down at the Tachikawa dining table, with no one the wiser. "I'd love to."
We continued with Nippon-related niceties for a couple more minutes—the weather in Odaiba, how were the Yagamis doing, and how the American malls were so big and scary compared to the shops in AquaCity. Luckily I managed to beg off before she got too far into this topic, pretending that a homicidally violent bum was behind me demanding to use the phone, and hung up with a blurted promise to show up for supper.
I glanced to the west, my gaze catching on one of those distant empty gaps between the houses nearby that promised sloping sand and surf beyond. The beach. How unspecific could you get? What if she'd decided to drive up to one of those other beaches—ones with names like Laguna or Sunset, which years of bad imported American TV had left me with the impression were teeming with supermodels and rock stars. She'd feel right at home there, after all.
But I'd already come all the way here; no sense in going back now.
I crossed the boulevard behind a woman with two young kids in tow, each clutching bright beach towels and neon plastic sand pails, and took a deep breath, stuffing my hands in my pockets while trying to gather my wits about me. Back in Odaiba…it was already early tomorrow morning. Weird to think about. Most of my friends were still asleep—well, Koushirou would probably just be going to bed after pulling an all-nighter on Ragnarok Online. I definitely would still have been asleep. Probably would have regained consciousness around noon, then flopped down on the couch in my pajamas with a can of Boss Black in front of whatever corny dorama was on and, for the eighty-seven-thousandth time, wondered where my life was going now that school, my band, and my girlfriend were all ancient history.
And who knew? In a couple months time, I could very well be lying on the couch in Odaiba, back to being that Yamato, as if nothing had changed at all. I'd made up my mind, though. It all depended on what happened here.
If this part of my life were a composition—Yamato's Cusp of Adulthood Crisis Suite, maybe, or Yamato in the Key of Newport—this moment would be approaching crescendo.
Leather motorcycle boots were not meant for treading soft beach sand, I quickly discovered as I hobbled awkwardly across the dunes. Shielding my face from the onslaught of the sun overhead with a hand, I surveyed the scene. Kids darted back and forth in the foaming surf, digging plastic trowels into the dimpled sand in search of crabs. About forty feet away sat a small congregation of teenagers on spread-out towels, I guessed about my age. Two girls in patterned bikinis giggled and whispered to each other while sneaking furtive glances at passersby. The boy next to them, an average-looking brown-haired guy in red trunks, looked bored, drinking from a sports bottle while intently eyeing the waves as if expecting something to arise from them.
I followed his line of vision in time to see the crest of a wave slam against the shore, shattering into glistening foam and kelp fragments—with a girl tumbling out of it, clinging to a hot-pink bodyboard with the tenacity of a stubborn barnacle, and laughing as if she'd discovered the funniest thing in the world.
The boy jumped to his feet. "Mimi!" he bellowed. "Are you okay?"
I blinked as Mimi pushed her sopping wet hair out of her face, glanced up and laughed again, sprawled out in the surf like some pink-spangled mermaid coughed up by the sea. "I'm fine!" she trilled in English, though her lingering Nihon accent was plain as day. "You win some, you wipe out some." She waved the boy back, who'd been hesitating, looking as though he were about to leap into the water and scoop her up. I felt a twinge of annoyance—or jealousy? Half and half. I stepped forward without really realizing it.
Mimi uprighted herself, plucking a long rubbery rope of seaweed off her leg as she stood, bodyboard tucked under one arm. She grinned at the crowd on the towels, then glanced around, perhaps to see if anyone else had witnessed her embarrassing wipeout. And then she looked at me.
Mimi's mouth dropped open. Her board fell with a soft clatter to the sand.
Within the next couple of seconds—or a bit longer, as I wasn't exactly checking my watch at the time—the entire front of my shirt was soaked with residual seawater, and there was a Mimi clinging to my neck. How had she made it across the sand that fast, I wondered dazedly, teleporting? That had to have broken a few laws of space-time—but not being a fraction of the science geek Koushirou was, I wasn't about to dwell on it. I didn't want to dwell on anything but the girl hanging on to me for dear life.
She'd come back to Odaiba a couple of times since the move, for token visits to grandparents and the like—but her time with us Chosen had always been short, relegated to a quick get-together at a karaoke club or the nearest izakaya a few hours before hopping on the next JAL flight out to L.A., and then it was the round of usual updates—how was school, the States, the part-time modeling gig. And I'd usually paid half-attention the whole time, because I was too busy trying to get a hand on Sora in order to provoke her mock-outrage.
We'd never been anything resembling what you'd call close as kids. TK and Jyou adored her, and I was fine to let them deal with her occasional histrionics and princess 'tude—I wasn't touching either with a ten foot pole. But I noticed, in those brief flashes and meetings and smatterings of international phone calls—until they'd dried up altogether in recent months—that she'd changed, somewhat. A little less shrill, a little more calm, a little more…grown up. To be expected.
In a way, I felt like this was the first time I was really seeing her, since she'd boarded the first flight to New York all those years ago. She'd definitely grown up. To expand on that too much would risk coming off as crude, I thought, simultaneously trying not to think about the scant amount of seashell-pink fabric doing a barely adequate job of covering—yeah, too much.
She pulled back far enough to get a good look at my face, and I took the opportunity to do the same to her. Thankfully, she'd abandoned the cotton-candy tresses long ago; her hair now more closely resembled sticky strands of caramel plastered to her neck and shoulders. Her eyes were enormous; her smile more so. "Yamato-kun," she chortled, slipping easily back into Japanese. "I just…I can't…believe you're really here."
I reached into my pocket and withdrew the slightly creased cardstock. She blinked at it.
"You made a wish," I reminded her with a little grin. All cool, calm collectedness—on the outside. The inside, however, was having a reaction similar to the time I chased a bad batch of unagi sushi with a six-pack of Kirin.
Mimi took the card from my hand. The ink of her signature blossomed underneath the pressure of her wet thumb. She looked back up at me and smiled slightly, curiously, a little bit…sad? Was that it? I could see Red Trunks in the distance, his face practically purple as he strained to see what was going on.
"But…why did you come?" she asked softly.
I shrugged and grinned wider, trying to look nonchalant, although my churning innards were making it a little difficult.
"I just…I had to see what would happen."
Mimi examined the postcard again, then reached toward my hip—for a moment I thought dizzily that she'd try to cop a feel, but no such luck—and tucked it back into my pocket. She beamed up at me. Maybe I'd imagined that little flicker of sadness, or whatever it had been.
"Me too," she whispered as she hugged me again. "I'm glad you're here."
I sort of awkwardly patted her hair, not bothering to try to tamper the giant shit-eating grin on my face, not seeing the morbidly curious stares of Mimi's friends, but just thinking how I couldn't wait to call TK later tonight, how I couldn't wait to sit down at the Tachikawas'—even if it meant braving the Mysterious Wok of Satoe Tachikawa—and how this new, grown-up Mimi was really a complete and total enigma to me, that I couldn't wait to figure out.
No reason to hurry, though. I had all summer.
Best to enjoy the moment.