Authors: Abigail Drake
A Passports and Promises Novel
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, places, or events is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Saying Goodbye, Part Two
Copyright © 2016 Wende Dikec
P.O. Box 135
Beaver, PA 15009
Edited By Lara Parker
Proofread By Anne Marie Stahl and Annie Amsden
Cover Art By Najla Qamber
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To the fabulous friends I made through the
Japan Exchange and Teaching Program,
Aichi Prefecture, 1989
s the plane began its descent, I craned my neck to get a better view. In the distance, I could just make out Tokyo’s Narita Airport, but below a different world unfolded in front of me.
“Are those rice paddies?” I asked. They stretched across the Kanto plain, like brown squares in a giant patchwork. “Shouldn’t they be green?”
Hana, my friend and roommate for the semester, leaned across me to look. “It’s winter. They’ll be green in the spring.”
“You know everything.”
She winked at me. “A lot of forced family vacations, Samantha. The curse of having Japanese grandparents.”
I laughed. “You’re lucky, and I’m looking forward to spring. I bet it’s gorgeous here.”
“It is. I like fall, too.”
I pulled my long, brown hair into a messy bun. After the long flight, I looked a mess, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at the moment.
“What’s the worst season?”
She thought about it. “Well, August can be unbearably humid. September is typhoon season. Winter isn’t as cold as what you’re used to, but lots of places don’t have central heat, so that can be miserable. June is the rainy season.”
I cringed. “But spring is nice, right?”
She laughed. “Yes. Spring is nice. Once you’ve seen the cherry blossoms, it makes up for everything else.”
As our plane touched down with a bump, I could barely control my excitement. I pressed my face against the glass, taking everything in, from the signs in Japanese, to the airport workers in their tidy blue uniforms, to the flat expanse of the Kanto plain.
“Tokyo is amazing. I’m glad you’ll get to see it, but I’m really excited to show you Kyoto,” said Hana, as we wrestled with the overhead bins and pulled out our carry-ons. “It’s so different, less modern and flashy, and the only city not bombed to the ground during World War II. It gives you a glimpse into old Japan. You’re going to love it, and Ritsumeikan University is in a beautiful area. I can’t believe we get to spend a whole semester there.”
A bus took us to the Keio Plaza Hotel, in the Shinjuku region of downtown Tokyo. When we got there, I dove onto my bed face first with my shoes and clothes and backpack still on. Hana did the same.
“I’ve never been so tired.” Her voice came out muffled by the pillow. “I heard they have a Hello Kitty room in this hotel. I kind of want to see it, but I’d probably have pink, sparkly nightmares if I ever slept there.”
“That would be terrible.”
“It would. I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Goodnight, Sam.”
I lifted my head. “If we fall asleep now, we’ll be wide awake in the middle of the night.”
Hana groaned. “But I want to sleep.”
I stood up and yanked on her arm. “Let’s explore the hotel, just for a few minutes. Then I’ll let you go back to bed.”
She complained about it, but got up. I took a quick shower, and it felt good to get the airplane grime off my skin. I wrapped myself in a fluffy white robe and turned on the TV while Hana got ready. I grinned at her when she emerged from the bathroom, drying her hair with a towel.
“I’m watching Japanese TV. This is so bizarre.”
“What is it?”
I wrinkled my nose at her. “No idea. A game show, I think, and the objective is to hit people on the head with that giant inflatable hammer, but I can’t understand half of what they’re saying.”
“Half is good. That’s progress. I can barely understand a third.”
She pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a tie-dyed long sleeved t-shirt and slipped into a pair of Tom’s. Her long dark hair hung down her back. She was one hundred percent Japanese ethnically, but all Hawaiian in her attitude and dress. Exotic and interesting.
A brown-haired, brown-eyed, very American-looking college student, I was the furthest thing from exotic or interesting. I had on my Theta hoodie and a pair of yoga pants, making my age and nationality even more obvious, but I figured the hotel would probably be pretty quiet, and no one would see us at this hour. We grabbed our room keys and headed downstairs.
My flip-flops echoed through the marble halls of the first floor. Everything looked so generically western, I almost felt disappointed. I kind of wanted something really Japanese, like an inn with a hot spring. This hotel resembled every big city hotel I’d ever seen, until we turned the corner, and I saw an exhibition of traditional Japanese flower arrangements.
I squealed, grabbing Hana’s arm. “We really are in Japan, aren’t we?”
She laughed. “Did you have any doubt?”
I’d seen ikebana before, but nothing like the arrangements in front of me right now. The sweeping shapes and splashes of bright color, the use of different textures and vessels, the complex simplicity of the arrangements, astounded me. I went from one to another, taking it all in. Hana tapped her foot impatiently.
“Hey, Sam. Dying of thirst here. Let’s go. I want to introduce you to my favorite grape juice.”
As we walked through the lobby, I felt a little underdressed. Most of the women had on skirts, and the men wore suits. The only other foreigners, a group of men sitting in the bar, laughed and talked loudly, causing people to shoot them curious glances. The bar opened into the lobby, and they watched what looked like a very noisy and exciting rugby match on a large television. I suspected they might also be students, here for the Tokyo orientation, but we automatically steered away from them. They seemed rowdy, and had begun drawing annoyed looks from the hotel staff.
“Some people leave home for the first time and don’t know how to act,” said Hana under her breath.
One of the guys in the group stood up and yelled, raising his hands in the air. His booming voice echoed throughout the lobby.
“Bloody hell. They did it.”
I caught a glimpse of possibly the tallest, broadest guy I’d ever seen. He had a headful of unruly curls streaked with gold that made him look a bit like a lion. He wore jeans and a wrinkled dress shirt half tucked and half untucked into his jeans. He turned around and his eyes met mine for just a moment. A shockingly deep shade of blue, they lit up when he saw me.
“Oi,” he said, waving at us. We ignored him and ducked into the hotel gift shop.
“Do you think they’re in the Ritsumeikan group?”
Hana glanced over her shoulder. “Dr. Eshima told me there would be a bunch of ruggers from Scotland, England, and Australia in our group. This is the first year they’ve had a team, and they recruited the best collegiate ruggers in the world for training and marketing purposes. I would bet that is them.”
Dr. Eshima had taken a position teaching at Ritsumeikan this semester. I was excited, not only because I loved having him as a teacher. It would be nice to have another familiar face around.
“Rugby players,” she said. “Uh-oh. Here comes one now.”
The giant lion man stood at the doorway of the gift shop, swaying slightly on his feet. His eyes scanned the shop until he found me.
“Oi,” he said again.
I feigned tremendous interest in the postcard collection, but he refused to take the hint. He came over, standing a little too close. Hana deserted me, sneaking to the far side of the gift shop to get two cans of grape juice from the fridge. Lion Man stared down at me, forcing me to acknowledge his presence.
“I came to say hello.” It sounded more like “
Ay kem ta sey halloo.”
His eyes, only half open, appeared glassy. Definitely trashed, but he didn’t seem dangerous. Just very large, and loud, and Scottish.
“Hello.” I nodded at him and returned to my postcard perusal. My heart hammered in my chest. I forced myself to take slow, even breaths, feeling a now familiar tightening in my ribs.
I’d had the first anxiety attack of my life not long before I left for Japan, and the lack of control had been as frightening as the attack itself. I’d had a few close calls since then, but never another full-blown attack.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm down as I analyzed the situation. For all his size, the rugby player wasn’t an actual threat. He was just a large, good-looking drunk who wanted to flirt. As soon as I realized that, my heart rate slowly returned to normal.
He tilted his gigantic head to one side, looking a bit like a golden retriever. Maybe that was his spirit animal. Not a lion but a big puppy with giant, overgrown paws.
“Do we have problem, sorority girl?” he asked, his eyes on the Greek letters appliqued onto my hoody.
I gave him a tight smile, wanting to hide the fact my hands still shook from the adrenaline rush I’d just experienced. I shoved them into the pocket of my hoodie. “I don’t have a problem. Excuse me.”
I tried to slip past him, but he blocked my way. “Aren’t you high and mighty?”
“Aren’t you drunk and sloppy?”
His friends laughed. They stood at the entry of the shop waiting to see what might happen.
“Come on, Thomas,” one of them said. “Leave the poor girl alone.”
He straightened his spine, making him seem even more ridiculously tall, and made a half-hearted attempt to tuck in his shirt, bringing my attention to both his six-pack and his bulging biceps. In spite of his rudeness and slovenly appearance, I found him attractive. Scary thought. A wall of muscle, charm, and Scottish hotness, he probably picked up women as easily as picking up a pair of socks. The last thing I needed right now.
“Let me try this again, the proper way. Hello. My name is Thomas Alexander MacGregor. How do you do?”
He gave me a very formal bow and held out a beefy hand. Against my better judgment, I took it. “Samantha Barnes.”
He swayed again on his feet, but kept my hand firmly gripped in his. I wondered what would happen if he passed out in this tiny gift shop full of delicate glass trinkets in elegantly lit display cases. Thomas MacGregor, built like a redwood tree, would take out half the shop if he fell. The little Japanese woman behind the counter seemed to think the same thing. She watched our interaction with wary eyes, her fingers hovering above a button on her desk. Thomas didn’t even notice her. He only had eyes for me. Bleary, bloodshot eyes, even if they were a beautiful shade of blue.
“Samantha Barnes. You are lovely. Really lovely. Not the friendliest girl I’ve ever met, and a bit stuck on yourself, I’d say, but lovely. As lovely as an angel, in fact. Why don’t you and your friend join us for a drink?”
I wiggled out of his grasp and ducked around him. “No, thanks.”
He spun around, almost losing his balance. “Why not?”
Hana and I slipped out of the shop, but I paused in the doorway. “Didn’t a MacGregor try to kill Peter Rabbit?”
He frowned, his eyebrows coming together as he thought about it. “That was
MacGregor. And Peter Rabbit got away, if I remember the story correctly.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “So I guess history will repeat itself.”
He left the shop and watched as I walked toward the lobby with Hana. “You won’t even have one wee drink with me, little rabbit? Why?”
“Because you are a drunken, rude, overbearing Scottish ox. And you’ve already had one ‘wee drink’ too many.”
His friends cheered; laughing so hard they nearly fell over. One of them shouted, “She’s right, Tommy. You
a bloody ox.”
He got very red in the face and lumbered back to his friends. “No chance with that one. Pretty to look at for sure, but as prickly as a damned thistle. You were right. I owe you a pint, Malcolm.”
My ears burned as we walked away. Hana gave me a sympathetic look. “Well, hopefully you’ll never have to see him again,” she said.
I sighed. “I’m not that lucky.”
We explored the rest of the hotel, avoiding the bar and the noisy group of ruggers. Hana gave me the grape juice, and when I tasted it, I sighed in pleasure.
“It’s delicious,” I said, “It tastes like…”
“Concord grapes,” she replied. “Wait until you figure out the surprise.”
I took another sip and ended up with something solid in my mouth, an entire peeled Concord grape. Cold and refreshing, I ate it and took another drink. The can was half filled with juice, half with grapes.
“This is the best drink in the world,” I said.
“I know,” said Hana, taking another swig from her own can. “The juice back home is like an insult to grape juice.”
When we got back to our room, Hana fell asleep instantly. I couldn’t.
The encounter with Thomas MacGregor had made me uncomfortable. The old me would have accepted his offer of a drink, and would have sat and talked and flirted with him until morning. The old me would have probably ended up hooking up with him, or at least making out with him. The old me was a sleaze.
I’d felt the stirrings of desire when I looked at him, a dangerous sensation. Just the idea of getting involved with someone else had sent me right into a panicky tailspin.