Generation 2.2 ... Mei.
Xiu didn't look up from her book, even though she wasn't reading. "Yes, Mom."
"I'm worried about you, you never leave the house."
"Well, Mom, I was fired—there's nowhere for me to go."
"The only place in town for you to go was to work? That is not true."
"Mom," Xiu began, but didn't finish. She didn't want to admit that she was afraid to go out because she would run into former coworkers who would have already heard some skewed version of events. The Forthwith Fertilizer account, which should have been a sure bet, was now in jeopardy, and more than one job was hanging in the balance. Resentful eyes were certain to land on her if she showed her face around town, and the last thing she needed was any more stress.
"Has he called you yet?" Layla asked.
Rémy Dutiel was just whom he claimed to be—Mei had gotten one of her friends to verify that—and like any college student on vacation, he'd gone home after the fun was over. He had an office number on file with La Université du Paris. Xiu had called it several times and only gotten a brief recording and a large phone bill for her trouble. She'd left messages twice. So far, no response.
*** "… so tell me again why you had me hack into a university's student record database under false pretences, Mei?"
"… because I told you to, isn't that good enough?"
"Very funny. You know you could get me fired and both of us prosecuted for invasion of privacy, right?"
"If you're the geek you claim to be, buster, that won't happen." She walked into the gym without stopping and Judson Goddard trailed behind her, sighing to himself. He'd heard more than one story in the hacker community about guys getting set up royally by trying to impress chicks. And at the time he'd laughed. He was savvy, he could see it coming a mile away, he wouldn't get used by anyone. But "anyone" meant people online. No one had prepared him to encounter a real-life girl with a cute face, great body, killer smile and a shiny police badge. He was completely spellbound before he even knew what was going on. And getting used left and right.
Still, though, being close to Mei made up for it all. Or at least, that's what he told himself when he felt guilty.
*** A few months passed in relative peace. Mei finally received a promotion, which she promptly turned down, much to Layla's outrage. Mei stood her ground, though. She liked legwork; she hadn't joined the police force to be turned into a secretary.
While the two of them raged at each other in the house, Xiu lingered outside, looking regretfully at a half-done painting, and a fresh block of sculpture material. She ran her hand over her ever-rounding belly and sighed. This was not how she'd planned for life to turn out. The front door opened. Her father stepped out in his jogging clothes. Even at 79, he still exercised daily and practiced martial arts regularly. That had never changed about him—neither had his distaste for nearly all technology. Thanks to him, the high-definition TV didn't even get high-definition stations. "Phone for you," he said as he passed by.
"Going away from crazy house," he replied wryly. He trotted to the curb before picking up speed and vanishing down the block. Inside, the atmosphere was thick, tense. Mei stood by the window, staring intently at the fishtank; Layla was angrily shoving clothes into the washing machine. Xiu picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey there Xiu. This is Anton Carter from The Fillmore Group. Remember me? I worked in marketing and every now and then we'd meet in all of those boring corporate meetings?"
She remembered him, all right. He was a show-off and a loudmouth. He was also a good employee and sincerely cared about doing a good job, and he was charming. And cute, if not entirely to her taste. But at the time, she only had eyes for Bert. "Hi there," she said.
"Hey. I'm calling because I have a little side project that I'd been meaning to discuss with you forever, and then when I finally got some time, I heard the news. Totally bummed me out."
"You're not the only one," Xiu replied dryly. "Can you meet me at the Water Hole in an hour?"
"… sure," she said without really thinking about it.
She hung up and went back into the living room. Layla had moved on to fiercely scrubbing dishes. Mei hadn't budged. Xiu tapped her sister's shoulder. "Can you give me a ride downtown?"
"Yeah, whatever," Mei grunted. "You wanna go now?" and she stalked off to start her scooter. Xiu trotted behind her, panting. "Slow down, would you?" "Sorry. Mom's just … ugh, she's being such a cow. I mean, really? I have a job, don't I? I make honest money, I go to work everyday, and all she cares about is how quickly I get promotions? What the hell does it matter that I don't have a title behind my damn name?"
"She just wants you to get ahead in your career, Mei, she's worried about you." Xiu had to shout into the wind as they raced along the street.
"Well, she should worry about herself, and stop tripping when she walks. One day she's gonna fall down the stairs, and she's probably gonna do it when no one's home."
"Mei, stop it. Please."
They rode on in silence until Mei arrived in front of the bar. Xiu got off and took a good look at her sister's face. There was a lot of bitterness there, and she wondered if something deeper was festering beneath the surface of the fights between Mei and their mother. But then Mei turned the scooter around and took off, and Anton came outside to greet her. His smile was still genuine and sweet, and he was still cute. Cuter than she'd remembered, even.
"Hey there. I'm really glad you came. I wasn't sure you would, a lot of people said you fell off the grid after … you know, the protests and all."
"Ah … yeah … I've been a bit distracted."
"Yeah." He looked at her belly, then at her face. His eyes unnerved her, and she had to look away. Her face went warm.
"So, um … I called you out because, well … tell you what, let's just take a walk across the street."
Mystified, Xiu followed him to the location of the new art gallery. The old Octagon House had been demolished in the past few months and replaced with a more stylish Victorian build. It was still an art gallery, though, as Anton explained on the way there.
"… and see, the curator's left, so lately it's been closed down. I'm an investor in the place, so obviously I want it to stay open, but that can't happen without an art director, y'know?"
"But I'm not an art director," Xiu protested.
"Oh, come on. Don't forget we went to high school together. I remember you, you were one of the best art history students around. And if you don't do this, I'm probably gonna have to close the place permanently. I don't wanna do that after we just sank all of this money into a renovation." He finally persuaded her to take a look around the area. She frowned, wrinkled her nose. "Was this the previous exhibit? This stuff doesn't belong in an art gallery, you could find this in any flea market. It looks like crap."
"Well, it was crap, and no one ever came by or checked in, hence why the previous curator walked off the job, hence why we need you. Will you apply for the job? Please?" They went back over to the bar and continued to hash out the details. Anton assured her that she would never come into contact with Ross Angelo, and that she would have autonomy to set up just as she pleased. She might be asked to occasionally display some work for a corporate client, but overall, the gallery would be hers to command.
Xiu pondered the offer and asked for a little time to decide. This, Anton granted, but warned her seriously that he had to know her firm decision in the next two months. She agreed. And he took her home. "Say what?" Mei muttered that night when Xiu told her about it. "A guy from the company that fired you is trying to make you into a backdoor curator for an art gallery that's about to go out of business? … yeah, that ain't fishy at all."
"But I need the money." Mei scowled. She took out her notebook computer and began typing rapidly. "I want the names of every corporate client that registers paintings, and I want photos of the paintings too. This sounds like a front for something seriously illegal."
"Okay," Xiu agreed tiredly. Mei was naturally suspicious where she was naturally trusting, so this wasn't exactly a surprise. "Where'd you get that thing? And how have you been hiding it from Daddy?"
"I got it from Justin." She looked at her sister's face and laughed. "… I bought it, okay? And I keep it in my bag, so Daddy never has to see it and get all bent out of shape. What he doesn't know won't hurt him."
*** Xiu called Anton Carter back and accepted the job offer. She asked for permission to begin work after the birth of her child—permission was readily granted. Anton said that he would have an office set up on-site for her to work in, and to call his direct line with any additional questions. That seemed straightforward enough. The baby's birth came with relative ease. One moment Xiu was asking her mother to make pie, and the next she was being assisted from the house and rushed to the hospital. The drugs they gave her let her float through the labor without remembering much of anything about it, and she was on her way home soon enough, holding her brand-new son. She and Mei argued back and forth over names for nearly an hour before settling on Étienne. "French for 'Stephen,'" Mei announced triumphantly.
Xiu nodded and smiled. She went into Mei's old room and looked at the crib that the family had carefully maintained for her, her sister, and now her son. She laid Étienne down before going back into the hall and dialing Rémy Dutiel's office number again. And as usual, there was no response beyond the answering machine.
"C'est Rémy's office. Je ne suis pas ici, de laisser un message, s'il vous plaîtes."
"Rémy, this is Xiu Shin Yi. You and I met when you came to Riverfront Meadows for the protest against the fertilizer manufacturer. I … I just wanted you to know that you're a father now. The baby is doing well, I hope everything's alright with you. I probably won't call again, so take care." She returned to the nursery. She leaned against the crib and looked down at the sleeping baby, and sighed. At least he was happy. Right now, that was the most she could hope for.
~ to be cotinued
Strangers in a Strange Land -- Gen. 2.2
Jul 1, 2012 by spladoum
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