“Tokyo. Who would want to go there?” Lori said, thinking about the time of year. The leaves were starting to turn in October. Spring was better. “The Japanese. They’re two-faced. On the outside, they’re polite. On the inside, they can’t wait until you go back home. There’s more to the word ‘gaijin.’ It doesn’t just mean foreigner. It means you are a barbarian – disgusting and primitive. I’m using tame words here. They have their own fancy way of using the F-bomb. And then, you’re the worst kind, you’re an ugly American. They don’t mind the Brits or the Aussies too much, but Americans?”
“That’s right. Didn’t you say you spent some time there?” Freddy asked.
“Yeah, I did some modeling there, but partied mostly. What was I going to do with all that money? There’s always more. There’s a place called Roppongi, where our agency tries to corral all of us, like we’re hostesses. They figure, it’s part of the contract. Pretty girls sitting around schmoozing clients, trying to get them to spend more money on advertising. It isn’t bad. Free drinks, free clothes, plus, in the end, it just means more ad work for us. The only bad part is not getting them drunk enough to pass out. Otherwise, you’re obligated to sleep with them.”
“Really?” Fred said, sheepishly, squirming in his chair at the restaurant. He cast his eyes to patrons nearby to see if they were listening. Clearly, he was trying to look the part at his new job. He wore a conservative grey fitted suit from the Men’s Wearhouse, along with a stylish coif stiff with pomade, which made his naturally blonde locks look brown. Given his chiseled features and a slim build, from years of playing sports, he almost got away with it. Almost. He slouched, and his nervous twitches – he bit his nails and scratched his elbows, which made him look out of place.
“I’m kidding little brother,” Lori looked at him with disbelieving eyes. “You knew that, right? Japanese businessmen? Not my speed.”
He nodded just enough, embarrassed about his naivete. “What kind of modeling?”
“What?” Lori shifted in her own chair, distracted by the lunch-rush crowd, glad they got an early start from his office building on K Street. She lit another cigarette, after barely putting the other one out in the ashtray. Taking a deep puff, she blew it out in the direction of passersby. A jogger cast a dirty look in her direction. He slowed down and thought about telling her she was rude. Instead, she stared him down. She pushed up her Ray-Bans, giving the guy in red jogging shorts a middle finger salute.
“I did some photo shoots for a billboard – cigarettes!” She held up a pack of Lucky Strikes. “Everyone there smokes like chimneys. There’s a vending machine on every street corner. My language teacher was so hard up for one, he cut our lesson short, and ran out the door. Bastard. Then I see him outside my balcony window, standing in front of one of those machines digging in his pants for some loose change. Desperate, like drug addicts.” Lori took another puff. “I also did shoes, a company called Diana in Ginza. Big time shopping district. It’s like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, not that you would know that. You get to keep what you wear.” Lori put her foot on the table next to the already empty food baskets, showing off black pumps with sparkling silver bows. “Nice, huh?”
“I still can’t believe this,” Freddy said. “Nice of mom and dad to tell me I had an older sister.”
“You were an afterthought kid,” Lori responded, putting her foot back down on the ground. She leaned forward tipping her sun glasses, enough to show off her brilliant green eyes, just above light freckles scattered across her cheeks and button nose. An amber comb kept her long red hair in a bun, that brightened an otherwise nondescript outfit – a long-sleeved cream-colored sweater and faded skinny jeans.
“I was out of that backward town, just as soon as I had wheels and enough money. Unless I can help it, I’m never going back. You were still a bun in the oven, when I left. I’m sure they wanted to keep you as far away from me as humanly possible.”
“Yeah, that’s what mom said when I told her you called me,” Freddy said, stuttering and stammering. “I-I-I mean, she meant you got around. Errr … You didn’t sit still for too long.” Finally, he settled on, “Your reputation kind of preceded you.” Speaking louder than he intended.
“Same old mom. Let me ask you a question – New York City or good old Gering, Nebraska?”
Lori cut him off. “It’s a rhetorical question, but think about it. Mom didn’t let me out of my own room. C’mon… Being a teenager. Time of your life, right? You’re a guy. She had me young. I get it. The whole lecture: Don’t make the same mistakes… blah blah blah. But it was sad that I had to find out about you through Facebook from that loud-mouth bitch who ran the school newspaper. Little Miss Popular, Kayleigh Michaelson. She just assumed it was OK to send me this private message, and she’s not even on my friend’s list: ‘Hey, congrats to your little brother on graduating from law school. I guess he’s moving to D.C. with some buddies to start their own firm? Now you guys can see each other a little more often.”
“I guess she’s right about that,” Freddy said. “I think going to Japan with you, even if it is for your work, it’ll be good for me; you know, the trip ought to broaden my horizons.” Lori stared at Fred, expecting more of a sympathetic response, or maybe she was expecting too much from him, seeing each other for the first time. He must still be trying to work through the shock of having a big sister. She wondered how her mother wiped away any evidence that she had lived there, and guessed that being 17 years apart was enough. Plus, Lori lived up to her vow of never going back home. Why would anyone ever mention her? Well, Kayleigh did. Were there others who gave a shit?
Two weeks later, brother and sister checked into the Hotel New Otani near the palace grounds. Lori was scheduled for a shoot. She’d be modeling a fresh slate of winter coats for Diana – the fall colors were a perfect backdrop, and for the first time in her life, she didn’t feel alone in the world. She had family. It was a Sunday, and Fred was still a little frazzled by the two-hour bus ride from Narita Airport to the hotel, and wanted desperately to nap. Jet lag. His energetic sister, though, had other plans, and insisted they go see the music bands and food vendors at Harajuku near Yo-Yogi Park. “It’ll be like a festival,” she said. Freddy, got dressed and ready to go, knocked on Lori’s hotel room door, and found the door open. He walked in unsure that his sister was there.
“Hey, Lori, I’m ready. Let’s get the show on the road.” He felt punchy from lack of sleep, thinking that sounded less than cool. He moved cautiously around the suite, then heard the water running in the bathroom. He figured she was still washing up. Flipping on the TV, he was mesmerized by a dramatic soap TV show on NHK. Minutes passed. The soap show ended. Finally, he got tired of the endless obnoxious commercials, and didn’t think he could handle more daytime drama. Fred got up from sitting on the bed, went to the bathroom, hearing the water still running. He tried the knob. It opened. He pushed through, raising his hand to cover his eyes.
“Sorry, don’t want to be the annoying little brother, but…” His feet bumped into something on the floor, and he peeked past his large hand.
“Oh, my God. What the fuck happened! Lori, Lori, Lori!” His voice broke. He nearly stepped on her foot. Lori had fallen to the floor on her side her faced turned toward the wall. Not knowing about her health, Freddy feared the worst. Thoughts raced through his head as he crouched down to check her pulse. He thought she might be epileptic or that she had a weak heart. Still warm. He grabbed her shoulder to turn her on her back. There, he discovered, sticking straight up from her arm, a syringe wobbling back and forth.