“…I can’t live in a dorm with him. The college doesn’t even let me stay overnight. Especially if you tagged along with me,” Saori said, talking about her college boyfriend.
“Who cares? That’s an hour away and I have to stay in the city to finish high school,” Ryu said, talking about not wanting to be a high school dropout.
My siblings probably wanted me to be the mediator to their conversation in a sad waiting room, or a real estate expert. We were probably the only kids who didn’t have to worry about paying to live in Sabier City. I had enough of dad’s money to my name alone to buy one of the narrow townhouses. And something had to happen to his insane portfolio of stocks. Some of them had to be legitimate and not evidence of insider trading.
The rumors of him being a serial rapist turned out to be true that night. Who was to say that he wasn’t a diversified criminal too? Just like everyone else said.
What bothered my dad a lot was that most of his ex-wives lived close by. At most, he could force them to resign from Cosavo if they worked there. But they still locked angry eyes on the street on occasion. If they had children together, he would sometimes get a weekend with them.
But my siblings and I were his for most of the time.
If anyone asked me why, or insinuated that I was stupid for doing so, I shut them down with the quick tale about how my mum left for Windenburg. It was her home, sure, but she made a promise to stay here when she had three American children, didn’t she? She was a few steps from the door with two packed suitcases when she told me.
I personally chose to stay with him full-time instead of entertaining lies and running away. He said that the only time he ever saw me angry was when she left. Even with the offers to visit her every summer, to attend university in Germany, or to attend my aunt’s funeral, I stayed home.
Saori and Ryu later said that I should have given her some trust, multiple times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not even when they argued that I gave everyone else so many chances. I took awful professors. I had an awful boyfriend and girlfriend in college, and I lived with our dad full-time. But it was easy to shake any of their mistreatment off.
Someone needed to believe in my dad, and he gave me every reason to believe in him starting with the day she left.
The other daughters of Cosavo employees gave me lots of friends for a bit…and then none once rumors about my dad started to circulate. I couldn’t even pretend that I didn’t hear them. Girls like Meghan and Karina were up in my face when they said that they heard that my dad did something bad. He was an inside trader, made racist comments, or groped a woman in the break room.
The weird part was that I could picture all of the secret meetings and pretty interns. But being able to picture fiction didn’t make it real. As much as dad called me and all his kids fat, spineless Asians and disappointments, I always knew he was joking. He knew that he was at least half of those too. I had to get it from somewhere!
I had to make a difficult decision. Who was going to be my anchor? Being a teenager made it even worse, when puberty ruined my face and weight even more, and I finally noticed how cute girls were too. Even girls at Cosavo I considered friends sneered at bi sluts and fat cows, if just in general. I figured they believed it. They hung out with me outside of their parents’ meetings at Cosavo and nowhere else for a reason.
But my dad could have ran away from me like I was yet another one of his ex-wives’ children. It seemed even easier for him than it did for anyone else. We had our disagreements and wildly differing attitudes, but I loved that I always had him to come home too. Dad supported me through everything, no matter what rude and offensive remarks he could say. Actions were what counted the most.
It’s worth noting that I knew some of the Cote family. Anthony Cote was my babysitter for a couple years and probably my favorite one. He loved games and music and selfies, helping me with homework, and he was my first crush ever.
If I ever found myself in Uptown, it was easy to find Anthony’s younger siblings too. I never knew Mike or Tessa closely, but they both worked at Cosavo and liked my lame jokes too.
But their dad, the CEO?
While my dad had me sit outside of Cosavo’s meetings, it was rare that I got even a glimpse of the CEO and his young wife, Thu. Every mother and father at Cosavo told their daughters to stay away from the CEO at any of these parties. Even my dad, who I’d later learn was Mr. Cote’s closest confidant and apologist, didn’t try to break those rules.
As close as they kept each other, my dad never treated the accusations against Mr. Cote as silly little rumors. And if he wanted to keep himself quiet about his best friend buying underage prostitutes or molesting his daughter…whatever. The man paid your salary since you graduated from Harvard Business. I wasn’t outward with how much it disgusted me and dad wasn’t either. It would have been extremely out-of-character for dad to not talk about something bothering him, but Mr. Cote’s behavior was horrible enough to shut him up. Well…so I thought for my own sanity!
Dad talked about Mr. Cote’s wife a lot too. Even with his own wife at the time next to him, he couldn’t stop calling Mrs. Cote young, hot, and of course reminding us that she was Vietnamese. But I never met her while Mr. Cote was still alive. The rumors about her were wild too, if a lot more mean and sad. They were wondering if she was even younger than she said or…uh…mentally challenged.
In my mind I usually went with the more charitable descriptions of her. Next to Mr. Cote, she was small and shy and fragile but undoubtedly elegant; well-dressed and a dazzler at formal events. Her claimed age was always seven years older than me, though she always looked young. She did his secretarial work, and whether you liked her or not, she was a part of the Cosavo family.
But when my dad continued to lust for her after Mr. Cote’s death, I couldn’t help but see a slutty secretary instead.
I spent less time on those thoughts than my narrative makes it look. She came up in stories from my dad a lot! I liked having a picture in my head was all. And at a point, it was built up with so much pomp and prestige that I felt like I’d have to sneak onto a red carpet to meet her.
Instead, she came over for dinner.
It wasn’t love at first sight for me and Thu, but I felt for her moodiness at the table. We all knew that she lost her husband, and what more was wrong? It took her until the end of dinner to even start eating. And when it came to parties and later meetings with my dad, she just seemed miserable.
Corporate affairs and being in a relationship with my dad for six weeks helped me come to terms with her being a part of our lives. I started to enjoy her company more. Thu loved our food, and she was always nice to me in her own aloof way. She was as beautiful as everyone said and downright cute, being so tiny and unsure. But I also believed that she was jaded enough to be in her late 20’s.
The more I saw her and comforted her, in her own ups and downs, the more I liked her as someone who touched my soul. I didn’t have as many friends as I wanted, and felt like someone too awkward to even live. Even when I met her as a near-stranger, she patched up that hole. We could both work in finding our places in a hostile world.
It was concerning that she sided with her husband, even after death, and I had so much to ask. Was she one of his victims? That would explain how jaded she was. Did she know anything anyways? Would she ever change her mind?
I had no idea when I’d ask her that of course. There would be a time sometime, wouldn’t there?
When I held my dad back from her body, I realized that couldn’t ever be a question. It was at least a question I couldn’t ask her anymore.
We both needed to work on that too.
“…signs of hypoxia and a neck injury,” said the paramedic. “I’m thinking a punctured lung too.” It made sense. The paramedic cleared away the broken glass with her bare hands. A large shard could have cut through Thu like she was a ripe avocado. I hovered over her but she was out cold, and needed to be lifted onto a stretcher. She needed her neck stabilized and extra oxygen, and the full report of her injuries could have been even scarier.
“Jesus, he even left the door open,” Saori said. She wasn’t crying though. I was alone in all my reasons for crying.
I quickly got dressed because I knew I was needed at the hospital. If nothing else, needed to apologize and explain myself to Gian, and if Thu woke up, to her as well. I’d be there all night if needed. And beyond that, I’d be so thankful just to have a place to make it up to Thu.
I was happy that they let me ride in the ambulance with her, even if it wouldn’t make a difference to Thu. Her vitals were monitored and stabilized, but she was otherwise completely unresponsive. And I made myself watch every agonizing minute of it until she was wheeled away to imaging.
“You better not blame yourself for this,” said Saori, putting a hand on my shoulder. I had my face in my hands instead. It must have looked like I was ashamed. “Whatever, I can tell that you are anyways.”
“But she deserved better than this,” I whispered. “Hasn’t Uptown hurt her enough?”
“Yeah…I guess.” Saori was never invested in that.
“Well, she’s in surgery,” Gian said. He was at the hospital only a few minutes after I called him about what happened. Thu complained about him sometimes, even a lot, but I had no idea how much he cared about her.
His nephew Mike scowled behind him, with a cup of Starbucks from the hospital cafeteria. I didn’t recognize the man behind him at that time, but I could infer what he was. I missed it when Mike laughed at my lame jokes.
“I hope you’re happy about this,” said Mike, taking a seat next to me.
“But I’m not.”
“After how you coddled your dad and made every excuse for him being an offensive sack of shit?”
“It’s…it’s almost impossible to disown your own parents,” I said, leaning over. “Of course I wanted to believe in him, and now I don’t know what to do with mine.”
“I’m sorry, but standing with your rapist dad for even a second is fucking evil, and disowning parents is a piece of cake. But I bet you’re going to still think you’re just not promoting hatred like that actually–”
“Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you?” Mike’s boyfriend grabbed him by the arm. “We’re going home.”
Neither of them apologized either, but I didn’t expect that.
“I’m so sorry for his behavior,” said Gian. “It’s been an interesting night with him too and I’m calling him into therapy first thing in the morning.”
“Thanks…aren’t you worried about Thu though?” I asked him.
“I should be, and I still am, but…but she’s pulled through a lot of deadly situations. She’s a lot tougher than the world gives her credit for.”
“I hope that’s true.”
“Listen, I hope you can detach yourself from this a little,” he said. “For both your sake and Thu’s. She’s in such a delicate situation even without this, and I need to make sure that she loses as little progress as possible.”
“I don’t think I can. She’s, I dunno, like the best friend I never knew I needed,” I said. “Like I’ve seen her in a dream crying out for help and I busted my chance to.”
“Let her make her own decisions about you. That’s the healthiest way this can happen.”
It was late when Thu was out of surgery. What was left was for her to wake up, and figure out the rest of her recovery afterwards. She had all her casts and bandages on, and injuries accounted for: two compression fractures, one each in the spine and neck. Her left lung punctured, not by glass but by a broken rib. A concussion of unknown severity, and lost blood that was quickly replaced. 40 stitches. No signs of sexual trauma.
If I was injured like her, I wouldn’t want to wake up either. But when they said that I could visit her, I ran to her room as fast as I could.
It was a quiet room. She was the only one in there, softly breathing and assisted by the hiss of oxygen. The heart monitor recorded each heartbeat, and her blood oxygen was normal again.
I pulled up the chair closest to her bed and wanted to say something.
But that too was difficult. I didn’t want to admit that this was my fault as well. If I didn’t care at all, I could have lied or made excuses to save the warm and comfortable feeling of our friendship.
If I had one redeeming quality in that room though, it was that I knew that Thu and anyone else deserved better than lies.
I took Thu’s hand, even if her fingers limply draped over mine and I was doing all the real holding. In spite of her injuries, she almost looked peaceful. Her breathing and oxygen flow were stable. Her beautiful dark eyes were closed, and pain meds dripped into her arm.
“Listen Thu…you are right. I’m so sorry,” I said. “I…uh…look, I’m not that good at this yet, but you should only forgive me on your terms. And please wake up, we’re all worried about you. Even Gian is.”
While Gian offered to put my siblings and I in a hotel room for the night, I stayed in Thu’s room instead. The staff didn’t kick me out. And when I woke up, I wanted her to wake up and ask every question she had.
“I can’t move my head,” she said. Her eyes cracked open, wincing at the new morning light. While she was on an IV drip with pain medication, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much pain she was still in.
“Do you know where you are, or why you’re here?” I asked her. It looked like her head landed hard on our patio.
It took her a minute to think.
“It’s okay if you don’t. My dad assaulted you,” I said. “And I got him off you, but I also said some bad things before that.”
“You did.” I couldn’t tell if that was a question or not.
I leaned over her bed, in case she needed to see my face to believe me. “I don’t need you to forgive me, but I’ll do anything to help you. I…oh my god, I have no idea what you need, or–”
“I’m happy you’re here.”
“You are?” We both started to smile a little.
“No…thanks for waking up. I love you.”