A Tom Lin's next stories


II: Ryo (Liang)

             “The reason I took her and her sister back with me, was because my ex-husband was a jerk,” Sue said at work, in her Korean-accented English, as we circled her like the crowd in a cockfight. “He’d leave the kids by themselves for days, and then sometimes food ran out, and the kids would starve. I couldn’t stand it, so I got the kids back. Their dad didn’t even care when I did it.”

            “What an ass!” I said as she finished her story. People around me mumbled agreements in Chinese and Spanish, each nodding in turn as they agreed.

            Sue’s daughter, Laura, was eighteen then, and was dragged to work with her mom to the restaurant. She was a waitress. This was paid at the same price as any other restaurant in town, so she was happy. Unlike me. Or the kitchen crew.

            “Is that beer?” Was the first thing she said to me, as I wrapped and wrapped the food that people ordered for carryouts.

            I looked at her, trying to suppress my surprise, as I raised my plastic cup of beer out of her reach. “Of course not!” I tried to force a reassuring smile on my face, even though none ever came. “This is tea. Yellow tea.”

            “Right.” She replied, nodding at me like a knowing mother who nods at her kid, after hearing the lie that he did not steal any cookies out of the now empty cookie jar. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            Mike and I still went out on rides during my free days, except that now we usually had a destination to arrive to. He is four years younger than me, even though everybody says that he looks older than me.

            “I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job…” was my chant as I slammed my head onto the steering wheel, the car stopped by the invisible barrier that was generated by the red traffic light. The intersections out of the Dayton Mall were extremely boiling throughout summer, as if it was an added torture besides the badly timed traffic lights, or just another clever way to tempt the visitors into going back and wasting some more of their hard-earned money. “And dad was so happy and shit when he promised that I’d help them out at the restaurant. ‘I already got you a summer job,’ he says,” And I would try to mimic my dad in a falsetto voice. “‘And I got it before you even finished the school year’. Stupid bastard.”

            “When’s school going to start?” Mike replied, looking amusingly at my head-slamming fest. Mike was the only kid I knew who anticipated the first day of school, only because then he would be able to stop helping his parents at their restaurant. His dad wouldn’t let him get a summer job, because then Mike wouldn’t have time to help out in the restaurant.

Mike needed money, mainly because he didn’t get paid for helping out his parents, who were too cheap to hire help around the place. So the solution that Mike’s dad came out with was for Mike to repair the roof of their house, and for that grueling and painful job, he would receive the money that he wanted. Mike’s dad was just plain too busy to do it himself.

So, in other words, the restaurant was the plague that stopped Mike’s whole family, yet they did not want to search for a cure that could free them from this.  

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            Laura told me the real reason her mom took them in, a few days after our first encounter. We had become good friends then, maybe because we were both teens thrown into this hell unwillingly. “I had a nice apartment and was living well alone,” was pretty much what she said. “I had a job and did fine without my parents. It wasn’t until I was really into drugs that my mom came to New York to get me and my sister. I was so wasted when she saw me, that she couldn’t trust my dad for my care anymore. That’s when she took us here. It’s not like our dad cared at all.”

            She looked away in a reminiscent and sad kind of way. I felt sorry for her, yet didn’t know what to say. She then turned to me with a happy smile, and said in a cheerful voice. “So, why are you stuck in here?”

            I smiled when she asked this. She was still sad, I knew this, even though she tried to hide it with a happy smile. Her eyes cried and went on without a tear. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            I was writing love songs that whole summer, trying to write one that fit in perfectly with the love theme of my manga (Japanese comic). The song was supposed to be written by an old boyfriend of the heroine (Kaori), who was about twenty years older than her, and was supposed to be the last song he’d written, before he committed suicide.

            I needed the song to be able to be sung by both guys and girls, because this song will be sung both by the heroine and the hero. Heroine singing it when she was lonely, remembering how much she loved her old boyfriend. And the hero singing it at the end, the song which leads the heroine to him.

            My manga artist, Chita, suggested I knew I loved you before I met you, by Savage Garden, because it fit perfectly into the theme of the manga. I had met Chita back in December. Or was it January? I was then a main editor for this little site that Mike and I had put on together, and one of the chores of the main editor was to talk around and get to know every new member of the growing site. Chita came out as friendly and funny in our first talk on the net. We never lost touch after that, even after the site crashed and was dispersed into the many dark holes that populate the wired places of the net.

I had refused her suggestion of using that song, because I always liked my stories to have original songs into them, not to mention that the Savage Garden song wasn’t exactly compatibly sang by both guys and girls.

            I got this song idea after hearing the ending song of Kareshi Kanojo no Jijyo (He said, she said), which was a comedy-romance type of anime series. The song was sung simultaneously by a guy and a girl, mixing together as if they were one voice after all. And isn’t real love supposed to be like this? When two beings are able to love each other enough to be as one, each completing the void of the other’s heart?

                        What are you seeking?

                                Something hard to find?

                                Inside your book bag, inside your desk

                                You looked, but couldn’t find it. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            “Ernesto is pissed at you.” Alfredo told me in his Mexican Spanish, as we both, me slowly and him rapidly, wrapped wonton skin and ground chicken into seaweed chicken rolls. I had landed myself this punishment by helping a female co-worker carry ten gallons of ice from the basement. I was punished because I was doing something else besides my job. I was confused.

            “Ernesto?” I replied, in my broken Spanish, a puzzled look on my face. “Who?”

            “You know, the guy who washes the dishes.”

            “Why is he pissed at me?”

            “Because he likes Laura,” Alfredo chuckled, his light-yellow teeth visible. “And you guys are always together.”

            “Uh… Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do? Get together?”

            “Well, I’m just telling you. That’s all.”

            I looked up as I thought how ridiculous this whole jealousy thing was. You usually don’t hate the other guy until he steals the girl from you, then you can break your friendship and beat the crap out of the other guy. Laura wasn’t in love with me. We were just friends. “Do you know how old Laura is?” Alfredo asked as I thought about my thoughts.

            “I think seventeen, why?”

            “Man, seventeen like me, man!” He replied enthusiastically, happy as a dog in mud.

            I was trapped in a place plagued by Spanish flies. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            A song is nothing more but a poem embracing music. It is just a conjunction of sounds that capture your spirit and mood. Everyone can make songs, just as everyone can write poems, each different from the other. Some forgotten because they didn’t capture the mood well.

            I was forming a new love song that day, as the boss came to where I was to take a smoke break. I was sitting on the stairs outside the kitchen’s backdoor. It was dirty with stuck grease and undistinguished spots, yet it was the only place we could sit. “Do you have a girlfriend, Tom?” he asked me, as he lit up his Marlboro stick. His English was as broken as his junk car, which needed monthly visits to the mechanic. That was why he always spoke Chinese instead, as to not embarrass himself in front of his employees.

            “Used to, why?”

            “Oh, just wondering, you know?” He said non-chalantly, his eyes looking away. I eyed him suspiciously. His tone was just so fake. “You should get one, you know, specially in your age.”

            “Eh, I’ll wait till I get back to Columbus.” Columbus is where my college was situated at, which was a drive of about an hour and a half on highway speeds.

            “Why? You can just get one here. And if she loved you enough, she would go visit you over there. No matter how far it was.”

            I shrugged, looking away again, trying to grab some mood and mold it into a song.

            “Eh, he’s still too young to know what real love is.” A voice came through the backdoor, as Cindy came out into the semi-fresh air. Cindy used to be a prostitute in Vietnam, and she tells us this with an atmosphere of pride, back in her young and free days. Maybe she was proud of this because this was how she was able to get here to the land of freedom, or maybe she was proud of that because that showed how desired she was in her youth. I don’t really know, she never specified the source of her untaming pride.

She was about sixty now, a baseball cap always glued on her head. “All women is to him, nothing more but a game and race for sex.” she continued as she stopped a little behind the boss.

            I shrugged again. She had some truth in this. As I absently listened to the songs in my head, wishing that go-home time would arrive soon.

                        Do you still intend to search?

                                Won’t you dance with me instead?

                                Inside the dream, inside the dream…

                                Wouldn’t you like to go inside? 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            I was planning to quit the job as soon as my dad’s friend arrived back to the US, and resumed his job. I hated that hellhole. But fate seemed to intervene, as my boss’ son was born on July 3rd, only a few days before my quitting day. He asked me to help out one more month, so that he could have some free time to spend with his son and wife. Liang was a sucker for these kinds of things. He could never say no. He never learned to say no. I felt like I was going to cry.

            Laura looked old on my first day back into torturous hell, her usual black hair was now dulled as she tied it on the back. She had no make-up on, because her sister Lisa, who was only two years younger than her, borrowed it without permission on her road trip. At least that’s what she told me. She smiled happily as she saw me, hitting me jokingly as I settled in my usual post. “Why are you back?” She asked, as we stood like always by the kitchen door, the air still smelling as oily as ever.

            “Because I missed you so much.” I chuckled as I said this. I never could keep a straight face.

            We both laughed at the joke, her “yeah, right”s intervening in our laughters. I think she knew too that this happiness wouldn’t last long. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            I used a lot of stuff to inspire my writings, considering that a single poem could easily be expanded into a novel, and a song could easily be expanded into a story. I looked for love songs that summer, to see if they could inspire anything in my search for the perfect love theme.

            The search kind of stopped after a week or so, when I realized that I couldn’t stand the whiny voices of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, or the girlish cries of the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, or the even horribler imitations of these horrible groups.

            That was when Chita suggested J-Pop (Japanese music), something that I was never into before. She sent me a couple of songs with translated lyrics, and that was all I needed to end my search. The songs floated in my head, playing sometimes without warning, the lyrics singing their own poems in my mind. I had finally found what I wanted. I had finally found my perfect love songs, even though they still wouldn’t produce the songs that I wanted. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            We did talk one last time after Laura went away, on the static-filled phone of the always-noisy kitchen. Rick, another waiter from the place, had come into the kitchen and told me that a beautiful girl had called me on the phone. I thought that he was joking, considering that he always was, and laughed at the joke. It wasn’t until the cashier came in a few minutes later, that I realized that Rick was telling the truth. “I told you so, man.” Rick smiled as he said this, in his fake Jamaican accent. “But you just wouldn’t listen now, would you?”

            “Shuddup, Rick.” I said as I went to the phone, pressing the blinking light button on the black phone. “Yello?”

            “Tom?” Laura’s voice came into the speaker, the volume diminished by the cooking clinks and clangs of the kitchen room. She sounded drunk, her voice unsteady. “Is that you, Tom?”

            “Yeah, sorry for the wait, I thought that Rick was kidding around again.” I said this as Rick pointed at me, and gave out a hysterical silent laughter. I just gave him my middle finger to signal him to stop. “So, what’s up? Why aren’t you working here anymore?”

            “Oh, they didn’t tell you?”

            “Nah, they never care enough about me to tell me anything.”

            “Well,” she paused a little before she started saying anything else. “It’s just that I gave some money to my sister, and my mom didn’t like it. So she made me quit my job…”

            “Really?” I answered, raising an eyebrow in doubt. “That sucks.”

            “Yeah…” Another pause, as some people screamed in the background, a round of giggles following the scream. “So… When do you get off work tonight?”

            “At nine, as always. Why?”

            “I’ll come see you then… We can go out for a drink or something.”

            “Cool. That sounds good.”

            “Right, I’ll see you then.”

                        You’re not even permitted to rest

                                You’re kept from smiling

                                You crawl around, you crawl around…

                                Whatever are you looking for?

            She never came. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

That previous event wouldn’t happen till a week or so after today, and my final quitting wouldn’t happen for another month or so afterwards. Today was just a week after July 4th. Now was when everything started to make sense.

            “You see, this is how it goes,” my boss said, as he talked with Cindy during lunch, chipping away at the soy-sauce drenched fish with his chopsticks, as masterful of the art as the cats are with the fish. “Lisa has a crush on Alfredo, but Alfredo loves Laura instead…”

            “How do you know this?” Cindy asked doubtfully.

            “Easy, I spoke with them already.”

            An amazed “ooh” came from Cindy’s mouth. “So who’s Laura in love with?”

            “I don’t know that yet, she doesn’t tell.” The boss paused to gulp down a cup of black tea. “But I think she’s in love with Rick…”

            I think I smiled then, and tried to look out through the small kitchen door window. Rick and Laura were a perfect couple, even I couldn’t argue that. I was just fooling myself. Why would she be interested in me? The windows were misty and blurry with clinged grease. I couldn’t look well out of it. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            “You should have seen me on Wednesday, Tom.” she told me on our last day together, a day or so after ‘today’, as she filled the soy sauce bottles for use.

            “Why? Anything interesting?” I replied, looking curiously at her.

            “I drank so much on Tuesday night, that I had come to work with a bad hangover.” She giggled madly as she said this. “The boss sent me back home, and he wouldn’t let me work at all that whole day.”

            “That’s the spirit!” I cried out encouragingly. “Need I say I’m proud of you?”

            We fooled around a while more till the cashier came in and told Laura to start working, that the customers had started to come in. She laughed as she left, a playful punch on my back as she left, as always. I felt good that day, the talk with her had finally raised my moods out of the suicidal depression I’m always in. This is not good news to my writings. I can never write well when I’m not depressed.

                        Finding out what you seek when you stop looking,

                                Happens all the time

                                Let’s dance inside the dream, let’s dance inside the dream…

                                Wouldn’t you like to go inside?

            Lisa came hopping into the kitchen that night, a little dull red purse dangling off her shoulder. She brought in dirty dishes from the front, probably helping out her sister with her job. We started talking as always, about a subject that I can’t remember, and pretty much played around in the same matter as I did with Laura. Laura came into the kitchen after a few minutes or so. She didn’t look very happy when I turned to her. And I could see that Lisa didn’t like that look either.

            They kind of argued the rest of the night, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. It’s not like I cared. I was about to go home. That was all that mattered to me at that moment, although it was still hard to fight the curiosity down.

            A song soared in my head when Laura came into the kitchen alone again, her face displaying how tired she was that day. I think the song was ‘Endless Loop’, as she poured herself a glass of water, and came to me as she drank it slowly from the glass. “When do you get out tonight?” She asked, as I prepared myself to leave.

            “In about ten minutes. Why do you ask?”

            “Oh, nothing, really. Just wondering, you know?”

            “Ah, okay.”

            We stood there in silence as she drank, and me staring at her like a dumb retard. I know it wasn’t polite to stare at people, yet sometimes the body decides to break the rules, without the permission of the mind. The song still resonated in my head, mixing in with the voices of my own.


                        Why are you here?

            I don’t know.

                        Why am I here?

            I don’t know.

                        Just like the endless stars of the purple sky.


            “You working tomorrow?”

            “Nope, my free day.” I sighed exhaustedly as I said this. “My only free day in the whole fucking week.”

            “So, I’ll see you Tuesday, right?”

            “Yep, I’ll be here by then.” I said, as I started to leave. We waved good-byes, a record of her face in my mind, as the backdoor opened and I happily breathed in the fresh air of the world, stretching here and there, trying to knock off some of my stress. I wished that our ending was more dramatic or excitable. But it wasn’t. This is how we were. And this is how we end.

            I think I saw my feelings once, in the ending of the anime series Kareshi Kanojo no Jijyo. The story reflected the heart of the writer, yet somehow it was able to touch mine.

He came to realize. He came to realize…

It’s a simple matter… Why did I want her to acknowledge

my existence so much?

Because I love her. Because I love her…

And thus, his and her story

Will continue.




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