PART 2, Chapter 17 – Yuri lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.

Part 2

Yuri lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. The sun was almost up and he could hardly see the little plastic stars anymore. He bit his lip, remembering the first night when they moved into this apartment. He had been fourteen, about to start high school, and furious that his parents up and decided to move them all to Shanghai without even asking him what he thought. He had holed himself up in his room and spent hours putting glow-in-the-dark stars all over the ceiling, mimicking the constellations he had just learned about, muttering the whole time about how the Chinese probably didn’t even study astronomy at all.

He grinned. How wrong he had been—about everything. This had been the best four years of his life. And now he was about to move on again. He thought he would leave the stars on the ceiling. Maybe the next kid who lived in this room would like them.

“Yuri, are you up yet?”

His mom was knocking on his door. She twisted the handle.

“Not dressed!” he said. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

There was a pause on the other side. “I love you, Yuri Gartner,” she said. “Happy birthday.”

Yuri smiled. “Love you too, Mom.”

He suddenly felt a lurching in his stomach. This was it— his last day in Shanghai. The last day to see his friends, to take in the city, to say goodbye. He looked over to his window. Nothing yet. That was odd. He checked the clock and realized it was much earlier than he usually got up. He didn’t mind. He wanted to drink in this day.

Yuri got dressed, watching the window occasionally. He had gotten lucky—his room definitely had the best view in the apartment. He had a big window with a little balcony and a view of the street where no one could see him. He had gotten used to watching the vendors out on the street and the people hurrying from one place to another.

He especially loved watching the night bike tours. They were almost always full of Americans, looking around like they were in a dream. Sometimes they would stop for pork buns and Yuri would get to watch their reactions. They almost always sighed and commented enthusiastically, like they’d never tasted anything more delicious. And they didn’t even know that they were getting the “American” version. Yuri didn’t find out about it until his second year here. The vendors kept the real Chinese stuff in the back of their carts. Yuri had tried it and he had to admit he liked the American kind better. He sighed, realizing that most of these things he’d learned here in China would do him no good once he got back to the States.

Yuri was shaken from his thoughts by a tapping on the window. He grinned and ran to open it.

“About time, man,” he said.

A little white bird hopped onto the window sill, poking its head around. Poor little guy. Yuri had found a nest on his balcony last summer with some baby birds in it. After a little while the mom stopped coming back. Most of the birds died. Yuri couldn’t stand it. He started trying to feed them, but only one of them would eat his leftovers. He named the bird Gezi—Chinese for dove. So he wasn’t the most creative guy in the world.

But Gezi never really left the nest. After he learned to fly, he would leave for hours at a time but always come back. Yuri’s mom said he was probably a carrier pigeon, but Yuri thought it was the bird’s way of saying thank you. So every morning Yuri woke up to the little tap tap on his window. It was another thing he would miss about this place.

Yuri gave the bird some old bread, and Gezi ate it out of his hands. “Listen, man,” he said quietly. “This is going to be our last morning together.” He had been warning Gezi for the last month, hoping vaguely that something in the bird would maybe sort of understand. “There’ll be another kid living here next time. He’ll probably need you too. So… be nice to him too, okay?”

Gezi bobbed his head and Yuri took it for a nod. He kept feeding the bird and rubbing its head until he heard another knock on the door.

“Yuri, we’re going to be late, get up!”

Yuri sighed and said goodbye to Gezi. The bird just bobbed its head a little and flew away. Yuri frowned, wondering if Gezi would even notice when he was gone. The Chinese believed in reincarnation. That dove could have been a person in its last life. Sometimes he wondered if some animals could remember their past lives, or what it was like to be human. Maybe Gezi would remember him.

Yuri spent the morning with his sister, Annie, following their mom around the city. They shopped and packed and met up with friends. It wasn’t exactly how he’d wanted to spend either his birthday or his last day in Shanghai, but he went along with it because he knew that tonight would be worth it.

They finally picked up his dad from work and headed to the docks. Annie had her earbuds in most of the time. Yuri could guess how she was feeling. She was the same age he was when they came to Shanghai. She was probably just as mad about leaving as he had been. He hoped she’d be as happy in California as he had been in Shanghai.

“So you ready for your big party?” Yuri’s dad was saying.

Yuri shrugged with a half smile. “Yeah, it’ll be cool,” he said. “But, you know…. I’m a little bummed to be leaving.”

Annie glanced at him. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Why do we have to leave now?”

“We’ve been over this,” Yuri’s dad said. “The company’s expanding to America and who better than an American to help them get their feet on the ground?”

Yuri almost laughed. The company? Wang Enterprises was more like an empire. In fact, Yuri had to admit it was pretty lucky that his dad’s best friend happened to own the whole thing. His dad had been the general counsel at Wang Enterprises for the last four years. The company always seemed to be getting sued for something or other, it was so huge.

And Uncle Chandler was a good guy. You’d never guess by talking to him that he was the president of the biggest company in Shanghai. And he had told Yuri that he planned on spending a lot of his time in the States once things were up and running over there. Yuri really hoped so; Chandler had made his time in Shanghai feel like home. And it was all thanks to him that Yuri was getting this charter cruise down the Huangpu River. It was something he’d seen when he first got to Shanghai and had wanted to do ever since.

“Landon, we’re almost there,” Yuri’s mom was saying. “Pull over here.”

His dad grinned. “I don’t know why you don’t just drive, Maya,” he said, shooting her a wink.

She slapped his arm and he leaned over to kiss her in the middle of driving. Annie rolled her eyes, looking out the window, but Yuri smiled. A lot of his friends had parents who barely seemed to talk to each other. So it was gross, but at least they liked each other.

They pulled onto the Bund and Yuri rolled down the window to get a better view. He would never get enough of this street. The buildings here were crazy. Some looked like cathedrals, others looked like they were from the future. And the road ran right along the river. They parked in a big garage and walked over to the docks where a huge yacht was waiting, all lit up like the Fourth of July. Yuri got chills.

As usual, Mr. Butler had arrived early. He was waiting for them at the docks. His granddaughter, Rainbows, stood beside him, looking very small and demure in a long red Chinese dress. Yuri looked down at his t-shirt and jeans, wondering if he was supposed to be wearing something Chinese tonight—or at least more formal.

“Evening, Yuri,” Mr. Butler said in his pseudo British-Chinese accent. “I’m making sure everyone is on their mark for the party. Rainbows will be my assistant tonight.”

Mr. Butler’s English was as strange as Yuri had ever heard. He sounded like someone out of a renaissance movie—but with a hint of Chinese. He loved it. He remembered when he first met both of them, he had almost laughed. Mr. Butler’s accent was enough, but then Rainbows had to go and introduce herself. Rainbows. It was like a My Little Pony character. Only later did he find out that it actually was her Chinese name. And Rainbows was a little easier to say than Caihong, so he decided to just get used to it. Now it didn’t even faze him. He wondered if American names were going to seem silly to him when he went back.

Rainbows’ English was almost perfect. “Yuri, sir, would you like me to show you the boat?”

Rainbows pointed, sticking up her pinky finger. Yuri grinned. It was their secret signal. He followed her into the yacht, leaving his family to fend for themselves. The boat was incredible. Everything inside was glass, and the entire walls were windows. The couches were more comfortable than his own bed. They sat for a minute, enjoying the quiet before everyone got there. Stars were just starting to come out.

“Rainbows,” Yuri said. “Why do you act like that when people are around?”

Rainbows gave him a blank look. “Like what?”

Yuri sighed. “All professional. All… submissive.”

“It’s what my grandfather expects, Yuri, you know that.”

“It’s like wearing a mask.”

She paused. “Yes,” she said quietly. “Exactly.”

Yuri frowned. He didn’t know if he would ever understand Rainbows. When he’d first told her they were moving back to the States she hadn’t spoken a word to him for three days. And when he asked her what was wrong she would give him that same blank look—like nothing happened. He knew by now it was a Chinese thing. You never knew what Chinese girls were thinking and you could never take what they said at face value. There was always something more behind the mask.

But then again, he couldn’t blame Rainbows for being upset about him leaving. They had been best friends for the past four years. They were partners every week at Mr. Butler’s Saturday night Mahjong game, and they had gotten to the point where they played seamlessly together. They won almost as often as they lost—which, with Mr. Butler and his friends, was a huge accomplishment. Rainbows was smart and weird and funny, and he had to admit she was really pretty too. She had a way about her that he couldn’t quite place. It was like a kind of—grace. When she walked it was like she floated. And she loved sharing secrets with him. They practically had their own language with all their secret signals and words. And now Yuri was leaving. Everything was about to change.

“I want to show you the party room,” Rainbows said.

She stood up and started walking so that Yuri had to jump up to follow her. The party room was lush, with a crystal chandelier on the ceiling and glass tables lining the wall. Yuri grinned when he saw a disco ball on one side of the room. He was sure that was his dad and Uncle Chandler’s idea.

Yuri was shocked out of his staring by a yellow plastic monster jumping in front of his face. He yelled and jumped back, then realized it was Rainbows in one of those Chinese opera masks. She was laughing and covering her mouth, even though the mask already did that.

The mask had a round, shiny face with painted red, black, and white designs all over it that looked like war paint. Yuri had completely forgotten that this was a mask party. He sighed. His mom usually got her way, and she had insisted that his last night in Shanghai have something to do with traditional Chinese culture. Those masks really freaked him out, but his mom kept telling him how authentic and beautiful they were.

Rainbows took off the mask and gave him a shy smile. “Sorry,” she said softly.

Yuri grinned. “Where did you get that?”

“At the back of the boat. I can show you. But first… I want to give you your birthday present.”

Rainbows took his left hand and pressed something into it. Yuri looked and saw a silky red cloth envelope, almost like a tiny purse. It had something hard and small in it.

“Consider it a going away present, too,” she said. “Wait until you’re gone to open it.”

Yuri paused. “Thanks,” he said.

“And you’d better remember this mask,” she said, holding it up, “so you can find me later.”

Yuri nodded. They looked at each other, her hand still in his. Yuri bit his lip, watching her eyes. He could tell she had a hard time keeping eye contact. She looked nervous. He slowly intertwined his fingers with hers. Her hands were so soft, he was scared he would hurt her.

“Yuri, where is my mask? I want to see it.”

Yuri jumped as Annie walked into the room. She looked at them both standing there, and Yuri quickly pulled away and put the red silk purse in his pocket. Rainbows barely looked flustered, apart from a little pink in her cheeks.

“Come with me, Annie,” she said. “I’ll show you where all the masks are and you can pick out one for yourself.”

She turned around as they walked out of the room and they locked eyes one more time. Annie was already skipping down the deck.

“Remember my mask?” she said one more time, holding it up.

“I’ll always find you, Rainbows,” Yuri said. “No matter what mask you’re wearing.”

Rainbows looked at him for a minute, blinking. Then she nodded, smiling slightly, and left.

Yuri stood by himself in the party room, watching people move toward the back of the deck and others mill around with bright masks on. He thought about the plane ride he would take the next day and the prospect of starting college in a country he hadn’t stepped foot in for years. He had never felt so alone.

~*~*~*~

Chandler sighed, letting the wind ruffle his hair as they made their way down the Bund. The night was an undeniable success. Friends had come from all over the city to say their goodbyes to the Gartners and enjoy the sights and smells of the river tour. The food was spectacular, the guests sparkled like crystals, and Landon and Maya kept ooing and ahhing over the boat and the views.

Yuri, on the other hand, seemed a little… downtrodden. Chandler remembered his own final night in Shanghai before traveling to California for college. He had spent it with his “second generation” friends—the kids who were too used to being rich to know what the true cost was. They were the ones who could get away with speeding because their fathers had too much money—and power—for the police to dare write a ticket. They were given Ferraris for their sixteenth birthdays and islands for wedding presents.

Chandler had enjoyed them, sure, but it hadn’t been difficult to leave. Yuri, it seemed, felt differently. Chandler caught a glimpse of him below deck talking to Rainbows. The two were nearly inseparable. He remembered the way Yuri had hid his smile when Rainbows had first introduced herself four years ago, the way the Gartners had absorbed the life of the city like it would be gone any second, the way they had brought light back into his world, a light that he thought had been extinguished years earlier.

Chandler was there again. The dark office, with closed blinds, letting through alternating slivers of sunlight and the neon of the city. He didn’t know how long he stayed in that office, staring at the lines in the window. Watching the lights move. It was all darkness to him.

And then the day that the world came back to him. It startled him, like waking up from a long dream into light that’s too bright. Mr. Butler brought in his regular meal, which he barely touched. It seemed it had been that way forever now. Mr. Butler left the tray in front of him and made to leave the room. But now he stopped. Chandler could see his shadow on the wall, silhouetted in a rectangle of light from the door.

“Mr. Chandler.”

It was all he said. He came and sat on the leather sofa beside Chandler and put a hand on his knee. Chandler stared at the hand. It was gnarled and spotted. The fingers were long and thin and swollen at the joints. Chandler looked up at Mr. Butler’s face for the first time in ages. There it was—the age on his face, his neck, his hair, and there on the backs of his hands. It was the first time he had noticed Mr. Butler aging. Chandler suddenly felt guilty.

“Chandler,” Mr. Butler said again. He paused and looked at the blinds on the window. “I think it is time.”

He didn’t look at Chandler. They stared together at the darkened window. Chandler only grunted.

“It is time for the dark cloud to move on. It is time to let it go.” Mr. Butler turned and locked eyes with Chandler. He had always had piercing, black eyes. They seemed to see everything. “You have held onto this stormy cloud for so long. Now you must let it go, for others may need it too.” He leaned back into the sofa. “Grace is back from America. Remember Grace from the Cheng’s family?” He lowered his voice. “Master Cheng wants to have dinner so you can meet Grace… your bride.”

Chandler turned his head and looked at Mr. Butler in disbelief. “I don’t want to see them.”

“Chandler, I know you feel abandoned, I do. I know how that feels.”

Mr. Butler always called Chandler by his first name when he was getting ready to have a heart to heart talk with him. But now he looked different. He gazed at the lines of light on the window, his face falling. He looked older than ever. He contemplated the window, rubbing his face, and then finally looked back to Chandler.

“But life is like a book,” he said. “Your plot will rise and fall. Some parts will be happy, others sad. But each page you turn takes the story on a different journey.” He paused. “Chandler, you have been in this room for two months.”

“Two months…”

“Child,” said Mr. Butler. “It is time to turn your page. You have been studying the parts you just read. You have memorized them, agonized over them, committed them to your heart. And they will always be with you. But you have not reached the end. There is more for you to do, to become. Your story is not over.”

Mr. Butler stood up and walked toward the door. Before he left he stopped and turned around.

“Mr. Chandler. I am not naïve about what happened with Ella and the baby. I understand. Perhaps better than you know. But it is time for you to begin assuming your duty as the man of the Wang family. Many people’s lives depend on you, on your ability to lead and maintain the family. You need to let go of those dark clouds. They have other paths to follow, other souls to darken. Their time with you has passed.”

The door closed and Chandler was bathed in darkness again. He stared at the window, but was distracted now by the way the light seemed to have turned orange behind the blinds. It must be sunset. He frowned, got up, and slowly opened the blinds. The sun was blazing on the horizon, casting shadows on the entire city. Chandler gasped and blinked. It was like the world had changed while he’d been gone, and now he didn’t know where he fit anymore.

He fit with Ella. With their son.

But the baby was gone, and Ella was too. Chandler hadn’t seen her since Guam. Since the morning of their third day there, after a long night full of talking and wine, when Chandler had finally felt like maybe they were going to be okay again. Ella had woken up early in the morning and kissed his forehead, but told him not to worry about her and that she was going to watch the sunrise. He hugged her tight and let her go.

And that was the last time he saw her.

Ella’s family wouldn’t answer the phone or return his calls. He had spent a week straight calling every hour, on the hour. It had taken that long to accept that maybe Ella didn’t want to be found. At the very least he could take her family’s silence as a sign that she was probably okay.

And so he had locked himself in here, unsure of what else to do. Ella was everything. How could Mr. Butler want him to turn a page? She was the book. She was the story.

And yet… he was chasing a phantom. He was living in a fantasy, thinking that if he could only stop time, he could pretend that nothing had happened. Chandler’s guilt rose back to the surface and he thought about the tired look in Mr. Butler’s eyes. The arthritic hands that had taught him how to write, how to tie his shoes. And here he was so absorbed in his own tragedy that he didn’t realize the burden he had placed on Mr. Butler, on the household, on the people he cared about. Now life had started putting its mark on Mr. Butler. And it was Chandler’s fault.

He sighed and sat back on the sofa, ate his meal, and went to bed for the rest of the day. He realized he hadn’t touched his bed in two months. The sheets felt alien to him, cold, too soft. They smelled fresh. He wondered if someone had been washing them this whole time. The pang of guilt came back and he frowned.

He may not be able to turn a page. He didn’t think he knew how. But he could start over. He could do what he needed to.

He could put Ella, the baby, Landon and Maya, UCLA, the whole last four years—he could put it all on the shelf. And he never had to open it again.

The next morning Chandler woke with the sun. He felt crazed, wild, but oddly contained. He felt like a different person altogether.

He decided to shave, get dressed, and go downstairs. A couple of the household help were setting the table and one dropped a glass when she saw him. She rushed to sweep up the shattered glass, apologizing, but Chandler hardly noticed.

“Can you tell Mr. Butler to get the car ready?” he said. “We’re going to the office.”

A minute later Mr. Butler rushed into the dining room, a shoe shining rag in his hand. He stared at Chandler with wide eyes.

“Mr. Chandler…?”

“Get the car ready in ten minutes,” Chandler insisted.

Chandler and Mr. Butler said very little on the way to the office. Mr. Butler looked afraid. Chandler felt strangely ferocious. He wondered if it was showing in his face.

They were silent all the way up the elevator to the tenth floor. The office was larger than Chandler remembered. It had a big reception area with an oak desk and a pretty receptionist, halls and halls of cubicles, lush offices and conference rooms all around the outside with walls made entirely of windows. And this was only one floor. Mr. Butler led Chandler to a pristine office in the corner. Everything looked new. The leather chair had never been sat in. The only used thing in the whole room seemed to be an old looking pen and ink well sitting by the keyboard.

“This is your office,” Mr. Butler said, his voice cutting through the silence.

“It’s been… waiting for me,” Chandler murmured. “Why—why have I never been here?”

Mr. Butler looked down and frowned. He seemed somewhat embarrassed. “I… Mr. Chandler, I never saw a desire….”

Chandler nodded, sighing. It was true. He had never even tried to come up here. He had been too distracted. And who wouldn’t be? Who could care about working in an office when they had Ella?

“Mr. Butler, can you teach me and show me what I need to know about the business?” he said. “I want to know everything.”

He ran his hand along the dark wood desk and picked up the old pen.

“Your father’s,” Mr. Butler said softly.

Chandler paused and gripped the pen tightly in his hand. He looked up at Mr. Butler. They looked at each other for a moment, two men, old and young, overworked and underworked. Mr. Butler had sacrificed everything—by choice. Chandler had simply had everything taken away.

He suddenly felt like a little boy again, sitting in Mr. Butler’s lap, hearing that his mom and dad wouldn’t be coming home. He had shocked everyone in the house. He hadn’t cried even once. But he had clung to Mr. Butler like a lifeline. He had followed him around the house, learning everything from him he could. He told Mr. Butler his secrets. He learned philosophy from him, and Greek mythology, and religions. Mr. Butler had known more about Chandler than his own parents had. And Chandler never wanted to let him down.

“Thank you,” Chandler said, his voice shaking slightly. “Th—thank you for showing me my office. I have one more thing to ask of you. Please get the dinner arranged with Mr. Cheng so I can meet Grace.”

Mr. Butler paused, gazing at him with suspicion in his eyes. He furrowed his brow, then made for the door.

“Of course,” he said, pulling out his phone. “Right away.”

Chandler married Grace one month later. Their wedding was written into Shanghai newspapers as the wedding of the century. They wore traditional Chinese robes, and thousands of people watched. Mr. Butler seemed happy executing the playbook for it all. Chandler took over Wang Enterprises, just as was expected of him. It was planned before he was even born. Chandler became exactly what he was supposed to be.

He became a father after a year. Grace had a little girl who they named Claire and Sunny a year after that. Chandler wasn’t there for the births. He didn’t feel the hospital was a place he could go. But Grace seemed to understand; at least she never said anything. Grace was an accomplished person—she had been educated in America and ran her own family’s business. She was a loving and responsible mother. They settled into their life together easily. They understood each other’s roles, they understood maintaining each other’s family tradition. Being with Grace felt like pretending sometimes, but it was a role he knew how to fill.

Chandler worked and worked, expanding his company beyond recognition until it was the largest company in all of Southeast Asia. He found that he actually enjoyed the accomplishments and satisfaction of working. It was the one thing in his life he felt certain about. He loved spending the night on his office couch. He would spend entire nights watching the light shows of the Shanghai skyscrapers and wondering about the stories behind each building and the people inside.

He would sometimes think about Landon and Maya, but he never did respond to their calls or emails. He just couldn’t help but remember his conversation with Mr. Butler. It became the mantra for his entire life. He had closed the book from before. This new life with the business, with Grace, with their girls—it was all he could let in now. He couldn’t go back to his old friends without having to retrace his steps and care about all of it again. So he chose to care about none of it.

That was, until one night, as he watched the lights from his office suite, Chandler heard footsteps on his floor.

Mr. Butler’s here to check on me again, he thought. He didn’t even turn his head to see who it was.

“Hey man, how’ve you been?”

Chandler stopped. He turned his head, recognizing the voice he hadn’t heard in over a decade. The past walked through his office door, grinning. Chandler stood up quickly.

“Landon Gartner? What—what are you doing here, Landon?”

Chandler felt embarrassed, shameful. He just stood there feeling remorse as Landon walked up and stuck out a hand.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Landon Gartner. Nice to meet you.” He paused and smiled sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders. “Remember buddy, the first time you came and knocked on my door?”

Chandler had to smile. Landon had a way about him, so unassuming, that had always made him feel so comfortable. It was like nothing had changed, no time had passed at all. Chandler reached over and gave him a big hug—a hug he hadn’t given to anyone in years. He had no words.

“Mr. Butler told me I would find you here,” Landon said. “I’m here on business and thought I might look you up.” He put a hand on Chandler’s shoulder. “Maya and I have missed you. We just want to know how you’re doing. If you’re busy, I can come back.” Landon turned slightly toward the door.

“Wait,” Chandler said, finally finding his voice. “I’m sorry—I’m really sorry I haven’t responded. I know you called me, and emailed me…”

“And texted, and video called….”

“Right. Let’s have a beer and tell me what you’ve been doing, brother.”

The two of them talked the entire evening, catching up with each other’s lives. Chandler didn’t want the sun to come up, and, when it did, they scheduled the next two nights for more “hang out” time. Chandler showed Landon everything about Wang Enterprises. By the time Landon’s trip was over, Chandler had already left him with an offer to come join him in helping with business expansion efforts. They never once mentioned Ella’s name.

So it was that Landon and Maya returned to Chandler’s life—with two additions: Yuri and Annie. The two took to Shanghai like they’d lived there their entire lives. Annie loved Chandler’s girls, and Yuri took a special interest in the business and in Mr. Butler’s stories. Chandler had connected with Yuri much in the same way he had connected with Landon—for no reason at all, he just felt like he had known the kid all his life. Which was why he had felt that he had to do something special for Yuri’s birthday. Maybe it was selfish, but he wanted to leave Yuri with a picture of his Uncle Chandler that was fantastic, exciting, and unforgettable.

He always kept an eye on Yuri, but tonight he especially wanted to make sure that the boy was having a good time. He supposed, after seeing the way that Yuri and Rainbows looked at each other, that he didn’t blame Yuri for his melancholy. It only made sense, after all. He toasted the two in his mind, wishing them a good last night together. He grinned. As good as Landon and Maya would permit, anyway.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s