Generation 2.1 ... Xiu.
"Yes, it is."
"Good evening, Ms. Shin Yi. This is Ross Angelo. I trust I'm not interrupting anything pressing?" "Good evening, Mr. Angelo." Xiu wondered to herself how her boss's boss had gotten her personal cell number, but just as quickly decided that she didn't want to know. Besides, this clearly wasn't a personal call. "It's okay, I was just finishing dinner."
"Ah, guess my timing was spot on then!" Mr. Angelo's voice dropped to little more than a whisper. "We just got a tip that there's a planned protest tomorrow at City Hall, and that it involves Forthwith Fertilizer, one of our future clients. We'd like someone to keep an eye on the situation if possible. You're young enough to blend in with the crowd, would you mind going down there and keeping an eye on things?" When she didn't answer immediately, the executive continued, "I would consider this a personal favor."
A personal favor for a company executive. Xiu mulled the idea for a moment.
The man certainly knew how to push the right buttons. Promotions were hard to come by at this corporation. More than one person in Xiu's department hadn't received a raise for years.
Xiu said that she would go. Her parents certainly weren't getting any younger, and she needed the money. She couldn't depend on anyone else to take care of her.
*** The next morning she struggled to wake up on time. Her phone alarm rang six times before she budged. She staggered out of bed, wandering around the house, looking for her clothes. "Whoa there, cowgirl!"
That was Mei, happy and cheerful and clearly much more alert than she was. "Girl, where the hell are you goin' half-naked? Somebody needs coffee."
"I gotta get up to City Hall," Xiu protested, and nearly split her head with a yawn. "You go up there like that and I'll be hauling you away in cuffs for indecency! And you know what kind of prudes we got here in town. Coffee. Now."
"Prudes," Xiu mocked as she accepted a warm mug. "Speaking of prudes, what's this I hear about you and your random public make-out sessions?"
"I don't know what you hear," Mei said, and stuck her tongue out in a show of indifference.
Despite her job with the police force, Mei was not restrained in the least from flirting, and not necessarily with just men—rumors swirled wildly about her indiscriminate taste. Xiu didn't believe some of the wilder stories, but still … well, she wasn't one to judge, but Mei was … different than she was, to say the very least. And the difference didn't seem to bother Mei one bit. She bordered on completely shameless. Sighing to herself, Xiu finished the coffee and got up to get dressed. Then back to the kitchen for a quick breakfast. She read over the posted reasons for the public protest, and privately wondered if she might be out there herself if she wasn't a corporate employee. And then … a few moments of sitting alone on the couch to gather herself. It was hard to believe that four months had passed since she had been widowed. The stereo stood in the corner. No one had turned it on since that horrible day. It felt as though it had happened just a few days ago.
She had to stop thinking about it.
*** When she arrived at City Hall, Xiu quickly found that the social networking was no lie. The people were out in force, shouting slogans, angrily waving signs. The crowd noise was fierce, and she grew nervous. What if something happened? What if a riot broke out?
"The corporate culture is poisoning our food and our soil with their chemical sludge! Take back our farmland, tell Forthwith Pesticides we don't want them here!"
The shouting went on, and on, and on. Xiu had to bite her tongue to keep from arguing with the opinionated protestors. Talking too much would probably give her away instantly. And she was here to listen, not argue. Still, it was hard as hell when people talked about rumors as if they were facts.
Annoyed, she walked away from the picket line—and ran right into someone. "Excuse me," she said.
Oh, god, not Pascal. Please not Pascal. … no, not Pascal.
She was silent for a moment before considering that this man might be able to give her some information. Quietly, she asked, "… so what's this protest all about?"
He looked back at her, and just as quietly answered in his strong accent, "Forthwith Pesticides is trying to establish a client base in this town, we have come to protest against it. The local government is holding an open hearing on the matter, but there was not enough room for all of us to enter the room. We're out here instead."
"Why are you protesting?"
"… of the past ten towns that Forthwith has claimed as a major client base, seven have had long-term soil sterility issues. Two become ghost towns after all of their topsoil blew away."
"Huh," Xiu said. She soon found that this man's name was Rémy Dutiel. He was a master's candidate of environmental science from La Université du Paris, and he happened to be visiting friends two towns over when this story broke. He was less interested in the monetary motivations of Forthwith Pesticides, far more concerned with how the soil would be replenished.
Even though she knew little to nothing about agriculture, he spoke so knowingly on the topic that gradually Xiu grew more and more interested in what he had to say, and without realizing it, her opinion of the situation gradually changed. When he offered her a drink ("It's so hot out here") she didn't even hesitate to accept. The Watering Hole was selling two-for-one Negronis; Rémy brought one to her.
"Do you like it?"
"I don't know," Xiu said, honestly. "I've never had it before." She sipped. "Oooh, it's kind of bitter and kind of sweet. Weird."
She continued to drink, and Rémy continued to talk. It wasn't long before she had completely lost the train of the conversation and soon found herself staring at his lips, completely fascinated by them. She wanted those lips.
… was she drunk? With a start, she realized that she had been staring at him for too long, and he'd stopped talking. His smile was knowing.
"You seem as though you would like to say something to me, miss Xiu." … what was there to say? The public meeting was over. Both protestors and corporate lobbyists were crowding their way into the bar, shattering the quiet atmosphere and spoiling the moment. Rémy took Xiu's hand and led her outside, where it had grown dark, seemingly in a heartbeat. The small park just a block away from the bar was silent and deserted, and he took her there, where they sat for a moment and looked up into the night sky.
"You are … different," he finally murmured. "I know that you were not interested in what I had to say. And yet you listened to me all afternoon, even though you have your own troubles."
"I don’t mind listening," she said, just as softly.
He looked into her eyes again and smiled. "You seemed happier when we weren't talking so much." He helped her back to her feet and claimed her lips, and she melted. All of the pain and numbness that she had carried—gladly—for the past four months, she laid aside and selfishly allowed herself to experience pleasure again. It was such a relief. It was wonderful to just feel again. And oh, how Rémy made her feel.
The moon crept upwards through the sky.
Xiu's phone was ringing. The sound of the buzzing ringtone went through her head, unpleasantly. Getting up was a struggle, but she had to. The phone wouldn't stop ringing.
"… hello?" "Ms. Shin Yi. Rough night?"
That would be Mr. Angelo. She swallowed through a dry mouth.
"So, I hear you attended the protest, as requested." There was the sound of papers being rustled. "I also hear you got distracted, all on your own."
… oh no.
"Hear that noise, Ms. Shin Yi? That's your promotion paperwork, going into my shredder." Xiu fumbled for her muddy jeans and found a wad of paper in the back pocket. Her notes were ruined. Between rolling in the bushes and a lot of body heat, all of the writing was smudged and much of it was illegible.
"Ms. Shin Yi. Do you understand what you've done? You were sent there to watch the protests, and keep abreast of what people were saying, so that we could report back to our client about the realistic possibility of them establishing a §15 million account here. And instead, you wander off with a tourist and miss all of the proceedings! You have completely undermined the duty and responsibility we have to this client to protect their interests. I have to make a report to the executives of Forthwith Pesticides in 48 hours. What am I going to tell them now? Any ideas?"
"… you could tell them about the soil sterility issues in the last towns that they established major accounts in."
"Excuse me?" Xiu continued to repeat what Rémy had said to her yesterday as Mr. Angelo listened in silence. When she was done, he said in an incredulous voice, "… unbelievable. I send you downtown to get information to help our client, and you've been completely converted to the other side."
"Isn't the long-term future of our town important?" Xiu said. She had a shaky feeling in the pit of her stomach. "If I were you, I'd be more concerned about the future of your work prospects. You're fired, effective immediately. Your key card has been deactivated so there's no need for you to return to the office. I'll have the contents of your cubicle shipped to your home address."
Perfect. Just perfect.
"… fine," she said and hung up. The room was spinning, and quite suddenly she found herself on her knees in front of the toilet. It was the Negroni from last night, she was certain. At least that was what she told herself.
*** A month elapsed in short order. Mei's job on the police force was going well, and she seemed to have a steady boyfriend—at least, she hadn't dumped him within a few weeks of meeting him. She had brought him home more than once, and both Kim Chong and Layla had met him. As usual, Kim Chong welcomed him with open arms, and Layla hung back a little. A lot, actually. She didn't care for this one in the least. But it didn't matter—Mei was as independent and stubborn as her mother had ever been. "You are 25, and you have worked the same job for almost a year! No promotions, no raises? What do you do there, play on a computer?"
"Seriously, Ma? You don't get regular raises as a cop! Besides, I already told you what I do! I'm on the street, gettin' dirt."
"Dirt? Dirt? What does dirt have to do with you working a menial job? You were the valedictorian of your class, you can't do any better than standing on a corner like a floozy?"
"Well, maybe I like it, didja ever think of that? And I'm making honest money doing real work. At least I'm not pregnant like someone I know!"
Xiu put down her paintbrush and stared in the window. Her mother had stormed off. Mei was coming outside, smirking. "… what the hell was that?"
"Don't 'what' me! Why'd you bring up pregnancy? You know Mom's worried sick that you're going to—"
"She doesn't need to worry about me," Mei snapped, "she should be looking at you."
"Yup. There's a bun in that oven, sis." Xiu tried to say something, but instead just burst into tears. Mei immediately tried to calm her down. "Hey, now … it's okay. Ma will be totally happy to have another kid running around the house, and you're her favorite, anyway. She's never going to complain about anything you do."
This was cold comfort to Xiu: first widowed, then fired, and now a mother-to-be! How much further could things fall apart?
~ to be continued
Strangers in a Strange Land -- Gen. 2.1
Jun 13, 2012 by spladoum
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