I lived in my dad’s home for my whole life, so naturally my collection of stuff grew too much over twenty-two years. It all had to be moved out, which was not something that Gene’s homebody daughter ever planned for.
The hardest item to pack was all the books. They made the boxes very heavy, evoked a lot of memories, and made me wonder which ones needed to be donated to a library instead. A lot of them were still required material in some university history programs too.
All my posters and stuffed animals were light and easy to smush down under something heavier. I’d treat them better once they got removed from my rented storage pod, but that would mean buying a house and possibly living on my own! I couldn’t bear the thought!
Maybe Thu knew that feeling as well though. She didn’t live alone either and I didn’t know if she ever did, and we were always looking for more things to talk about! I welcomed them all. Her voice was chirpy yet whiny, but I couldn’t get enough of it. She had these round cheeks and a slightly-pointed chin that rose and lit up when she smiled, and I made her smile a lot. I didn’t even know why. I couldn’t even make my ex-boyfriend do that.
But she couldn’t have liked me back. It was the most unfortunate crush, since we always joked about her being the straight girl of the group.
Plus, I had too much baggage that would turn the queen of baggage off.
While it felt like an impossible task, the last box took an unceremonious trip to the east side of the city for life in storage. I was sad to see it go, because it was my cue to leave too.
“I hope you’re happy with what you’ve done,” I said. A wreath of beer bottles and cases circled his feet, which I found more and more after his arrest. His pants were off, and his ankle monitor reminded me of his crimes if the traumatic memories somehow failed.
“So what?” he slurred. “It’s not like they could do a rape kit on her.”
“I wanted to believe you weren’t sick, I really did. But oh my god, stop being so drunk and pervy! I should’ve listened to Blakeley’s daughter.”
“Why? You almost had another half-sibling thanks to her.”
“Dad! I can’t believe everything you’ve done…whatever that means. I thought I’d always be your biggest supporter, I thought nothing you could say would stop that. But the more I find out about you, the more I don’t believe it. You could have been a so much better man than one who raped my friend, but you did that in front of me. It’s like you don’t even care.”
“I guess I don’t,” dad said.
“If only you said something else.”
Gian gave us a unit of one of his family’s towers. It wasn’t the penthouse, since it had a rooftop sushi restaurant on top instead, but it was a spacious unit to be shared with three siblings. He said that he emptied it out and redid the walls and floors, but never said why.
I didn’t want parties, but I knew the emptied space would get used by Ryu and Saori for that anyways. It would be better smelling like pot than fresh paint and cleaners though, which I could smell from the front door.
Everyone tied to Cosavo had boring houses. They were big houses and lavish houses, but often sterile and lifeless no matter how many people lived in them. At least getting away from dad would let me get a house of my own someday. It would be smaller and cuter for sure. I’d have a garden for a few dogs to roam in, and the walls would be decorated by someone I love and myself working in rhythm.
The apartment wasn’t ready but Gian probably needed help moving and let my siblings and I come early. He didn’t seem like the kind of older man who would admit to needing help, but he had three youths at his beck and call.
Everyone was there: my siblings somewhere else in the unit, Gian, and a man I didn’t think I’d meet again.
“Man, you were as little as my own kid last time I saw you,” said Anthony. He had the most adorable little son talking to Gian and a chubby baby girl playing in one of the empty boxes. So much for that crush after all. “Are you doing alright, Kari?”
“I’m hanging in there…thanks.”
“I guess you’re my new neighbor now too. Gian thought that it would be better to raise a family here than in the Spice District, and I hope he’s right.”
I didn’t really have an answer for him. I didn’t grow up in Uptown, just in a cushy suburb. The richest district of Sabier City was worse than that.
“Oh, I hope so too.”
“So…would you rather help me move or entertain my two amazing children?” he asked.
I didn’t know how Anthony and fiancee could handle the kids. Elissa was already sort-of on her feet and hard to catch, and Ari loved to talk. Thankfully for me, he liked Voidcritters, just like I did always did. He even saw some old episodes of the anime that I remembered. Plus, he was six years old (six and a half as he corrected me) and wouldn’t even know what a fanfic was. I wrote way too many embarrassing ones about–
“Oh, if you ask Kari, you should have her read some of her Voidcritters fanfics,” said Saori. “They make you look at their world in a new light.”
“Sis, oh my god, like half of them are Leif and Barry slash…and it’s all based on the original dub anyways, and…”
Ari was still pleading at me, and he was still cute enough to convince me of anything.
“Alright, I’ll try to find one of my old notebooks,” I said. I had a whole box for them. Most of it wasn’t fanfiction, but notes from my uni classes and original manuscripts that got rejected. A lot. They showed why I lived with dad for so long.
Anthony assembled a dining room table while I read to the kids. It seated six people, which would be enough for my siblings and one date for us each. He and Gian must have been thinking of us so much, but they also overrated my ability to get a date.
“…and Leif and Barry went off to…uh…unfortunately I ended the story there, kids!”
“But did you?” Ari asked. He was too sweet though! I wasn’t going to read my teenage attempt at writing gay sex to him. That was an (immoral) act of trolling that Ryu would do instead.
“I hope you like the new unit,” said Gian. He looked happier than I had ever seen, sure, but with a splotchy, fresh bruise over his right eye. That could have been a character-deepening moment for him, revealing how deep his depression and bad temper went.
But instead, I found it shocking.
“Don’t worry about it. Thu had a seizure this morning and hit me in the eye during it…wouldn’t even be the first time.”
“That’s horrible! What if she hurt herself again, or has a worse head injury than we thought, or–”
“Kari. Please, she’s going to be fine. It’s just hard getting her back on her regular medication, especially with all this stress.”
“Okay,” I said. “But, like, I know she needs a lot of care. And now I’m close enough to give it to her.” He rolled his eyes for no reason, which no matter what, was super rude. Someone needed to take care of Thu after an injury and beyond that. No matter how much therapy appointments she attended, Thu would always be a little fragile, and that was okay! Plus, he didn’t have a right to be angry in his new, renovated apartment. That seemed like bad luck.
Gian then walked off to talk to his nephew and tend to Elissa, so he couldn’t have been too mad. I appreciated how much he cared about a bunch of troubled adults who weren’t his children, and their children too. If I had any, they’d be as grandfather-less as Ari and Elissa. They talked in whispers that I couldn’t quite hear, which was the most familial way to speak.
“Don’t think you’d escape this, kiddo,” said Anthony, holding me by the neck and giving me a strong noogie on the head. He never did that while babysitting me, but he struck me as the person who wouldn’t ever noogie a child.
“God, Anthony, I thought you were the sweet and sensitive type!”
“Wait until you’re my age.”
“I’m okay with saying this in front of my sibs, but…like…how do you go on living after finding out your dad is a monster?” I asked him.
“You apologize for the harm you’ve done and try to forget it,” he said. “I know you’re in a tough place right now, but I don’t want to say it front of the kids.”
“And you’re welcome to visit any time and ask me then. Come when my fiancée brings home some of those delicious Lebanese pastries her cousin bakes.”
Okay, Anthony made a friend for life with that sentence. I wanted some baklava and shaabiyat so bad.
“Speaking of the fiancée’s cousins, her dad had a falling out with several and I have more guests to invite. It’s short notice, but…you could use a little more joy in your life right now,” he said.
He handed me a card inviting me and a date to a week-long wedding in Angel City. But it was untraditional too, because it was secular, they had children before marriage, and Anthony was taking his wife’s surname. Interesting. At least I didn’t have a job to call out from any longer, or money that stopped me from buying plane tickets.
And if she said yes, my “date” wouldn’t either.
Saori and I had to choose between the two bedrooms in the back of the apartment. The back-most one didn’t have a walk-in closet, and Saori owned a lot of clothes. But I didn’t see her in there hanging up shirts and skater dresses. Gian already assembled two bookshelves for that bedroom too, so he must have had me in mind.
I didn’t unpack most of my books, but I could at least read more about the Holy Roman Empire. While there was no way I could write a thesis about it yet, I was sure I would. At 25 or 30 years old, when my dad was the kind of mild sting that Anthony’s was to him.
The wound was still fresh. No one could expect dad to stop haunting me after only two weeks, and Gian made sure that everything was calm and in place–
“There are dead bodies in there.” Saori pushed the door open and couldn’t even catch her breath.
I was Gian’s first point of contact. If nothing else, he needed to know about his building’s new skeletons.
“I mean, it’s not dead bodies, but ashes? Seriously? That’s not warm and welcoming decor or whatever he thought it was gonna be,” she said.
The urns on the floor weren’t all the same. One was large and ornate, made out of smooth ebony and trimmed with gold. The other two were smaller ceramic urns, almost exactly the same except in color. They certainly weren’t untouched either, even if it was easy to wipe away handprints. Who was missed with such intensity? And who would be the person with the capacity for it?
I groaned. “Oh no, this sounds like a Thu thing.”
“Well, we can call Gian about it again,” said Saori. “Bet he’ll have a lot of fun explaining himself.”
“Oh dear…I told Anthony to clear this room out.” Gian lived close by, but was getting ready for bed and wearing a deep purple bathrobe and slippers. “Ladies, I hope you don’t think too much about this.”
“Just be brave about it,” Saori said to me, with a firm voice. “Even if she’s your crush.”
“She’s not my crush…” Well, I didn’t even believe that. But Gian whisked me away for a talk before I could say anything about my gorgeous new best friend.
“I wasn’t sure how many of the details you knew,” he said, sitting me down on the bare white bed. “Thu is very strange about it as well. It’s either her biggest secret or the subject she won’t ever shut up about.”
“I’ve…I’ve been given a lot of hints.” I knew she was Mr. Cote’s wife, and her friends filled me in on her fertility problems so I wouldn’t bring it up ever. We were all forbidden from talking about children or even Ashley’s PCOS woes. Thu needed to suck it up and move on with life (in Elle’s words, not mine) but we also couldn’t agitate her so we could keep the peace.
But while they talked about social politeness, Gian was there for it. Thu successfully conceived, quite a few times. She gave birth once too. He used to think that the grief and hormones made her into a volatile shell of herself…
“…but then I realized there wasn’t a person there before that.”
But she was a person! I wasn’t her guardian and I didn’t even need to know her for that long to see that. Even with everything she had been through, there were so many traits about Thu, separate from her trauma but woven into it forever. She ran only on the strongest emotions and always wanted to be the good person in a situation. She yearned for comfort and friendship. She cared deeply about her looks. She wanted to satisfy an intense curiosity for a normal life and the mundane things and feelings that were foreign to her.
Thu was quirky, new to the world, and beautiful. If there was one life that she enriched, it was mine. And Gian still treated her like a drain on his.
No wonder she was so attached to her exes and her babies.
“There’s a lot she needs to talk about,” I said.
“It’s truly the hardest thing for any of us to talk to her about.” Gian was still slumped over and crying a little into his fingers. “I’m just hoping this February can stay peaceful.”
“Yeah, like, I get it.” I started to walk away like I was going to walk in the air to Gian’s apartment and grab a postictal Thu myself. “But she can’t bury this either. She needs love and closure now.”
“Kari, wait, you have to be careful!”