|The airport was fairly empty. She checked her watch and it told her that it was nearly three in the morning. She had been laid over for eight hours in JFK when she got to New York and had not slept for going on three days. The last time she flew back from Japan everything was on time and she really only missed about a day of her life. This time, between the cancellations, the bad weather, and her own stupidity it had taken three days. At least all of her luggage had arrived with her. She dragged her suit case out of the terminal with another duffle bag slung on her shoulder and several shopping bags in her other hand.
Outside the night air of Charleston had a bite to it. Her aunt had told her on the phone that they were having the coldest weather in twenty years and that it had snowed five inches the other day. There was a cab parked at the curb and she dragged her belongings over to it.
“You working?” she asked through the window.
“Yup.” The driver said. He got out of the car and put her things in the trunk. “Where you headed?” he asked.
“Corner of Ashley and Moultrie.” She said as she got into the backseat. They took off from the airport a bit faster than she felt was needed.
“Where you comin’ from?” the driver asked as he watched her in the rearview mirror. “Vacationin’ or comin’ home?”
“Tokyo. Not exactly coming home, but not a vacation.” She told him. She never much cared for talkative cabdrivers. She was paying him for a ride, not a conversation. He seemed to get the hint from her short and to the point answer and said nothing else for the rest of the ride. They lurched to a stop in front of her aunt’s house so that she slid forward and nearly off the seat. She had forgotten her seatbelt. “Need help with those bags?” he asked as she paid him.
“No.” she took her change and her luggage and hauled it all up the front steps. It took some work but she finally managed to fish her keys from her pocket and then stick the right one in the door. She kicked it open with her foot and shuffled inside where she dropped everything lazily on the floor.
“Lara? Is that you?” a voice said from the kitchen.
Lara looked to her right and saw the kitchen light on. “Aunt M, I told you not to stay up waiting.” She said tiredly.
“Well, that’s a luxury of being old, you don’t have to listen to the young. How was your trip?” Melinda said as she appeared in the doorway with a cup of coco piled hig with whipped cream. She shoved the cup into Lara’s hands and led her into the living room by shoving the bags out of the way with her feet. The fire was on and Lara sat down on the carpet in front of the flames.
“The trip was enough to make me never o anywhere ever again.” Lara said moodily. She took a long drink of the coco and ignored the fact that she was getting whipped cream all over her face.
“I’m sure it wasn’t.” Melinda said. Lara glared at her. “Why was it so bad?” she asked.
“I think God hates me is all.” Lara said.
Melinda laughed. “Why would God hate you?”
“Oh, perhaps it was all those nuns I fought with when I was little.” Lara thought.
“Nonsense. I told you to hit them back.” Melinda reminded.
“That’s not something you want to be telling people Aunt M. That you tell little girls in orphanages to hit the nuns back.”
“If I could have found a placement for you I would have, but there were none to be found when you were little unfortunately.” Melinda commented as they watched the fire.
“Why did you want me to come home?” Lara asked.
“Well, you did promise that you’d visit. When were you here last? Serena was four. Do you know how old she is now?”
“She’s turning eight in two months. I keep track.” Lara brooded. “Why did you ask me to come here?”
“I need a favor. A big favor.” Melinda admitted. “I have this boy whom I can’t seem to find a placement for. He’s been with six families.”
“You have more than six available foster families Aunt M.” said Lara.
“I know.” Melinda blurted out. “But I can’t place Noah with just any family. He’s been through a lot and I can’t stand him being shuffled around the foster care system. He doesn’t need that.”
Lara was suspicious now. “What does that have to do with me?” she asked.
“Well, you’re eighteen now. That’s old enough to be a legal guardian and with my connections at work I can get you a license to be a foster parent. I needed a loop hole, Lara. You’re it.”
“You better give me a really good reason to agree to this. I could get arrested couldn’t I?” Lara said as she gulped down the last of the coco.
“No. I’ve looked into. See, I can get you the license under the condition that you and Noah live with somebody that is over twenty one. You’ll stay here.” Melinda explained excitedly.
Lara could tell that a lot of thought had gone into this but it just didn’t seem sensible. Her life was in Tokyo now. It was where her apartment was, it was where her job was, and her boyfriend. She couldn’t do that to him. Just leave and then not go back. “I can’t stay here Aunt M. I have a life in Japan.” She finally said.
“Lara, I have asked very little of you ever since I met you when you were five. I did more than other social workers would have even tried to take care of you, and I have not asked anything in return. I need you to do this for me.” Melinda told her.
“I know, but I cant just leave Japan. I have an apartment, where all my things are, I have a job. A very good job I might add. And… other things. I cant just up and leave.” Lara tried to explain.
“What other things?” Melinda asked curiously.
“Things. Leave it alone.” Lara snapped.
“What other things?” pestered Melinda.
“People. I have friends there.”
“You had friends here and it didn’t stop you moving to Japan, why should friends there stop you from moving back?” Melinda continued.
“This is different. When I left I just wanted out, but I like it there.” Lara said.
“That doesn’t answer the question. Who’s over there that’s stopping you from moving home?” Melinda asked.
It was no use. Lara had fourteen years of experience to tell her that Melinda was not going to let this go. She might as well answer. “Seiji.” She muttered.
“Who’s that?” Melinda questioned.
“He’s Arcade Guy’s friend.” Lara said innocently.
“Who’s friend?” Melinda asked confused.
“Arcade Guy’s. Seiji is his best friend.”
“Who the hell is Arcade Guy?”
“He works at the arcade around the corner from my apartment building. His dad owns the place and he’s working there until he leaves for med school in two years.”
“You don’t know his name but you know his best friend’s name and that’s why you wont move back home?” Melinda said in disgust. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
Lara looked up at the ceiling as if it would offer her some support. Instead she found a large crack in the plaster that hadn’t been there the last time she had been in the room. There was a small brown water stain at one end of the crack. “You have a leak.” Lara said as she stared at the watermark. “That needs to be fixed. It’ll only get worse and then you’ll have to replace all that sheetrock up there instead of just the piece around the leak.”
“I don’t care about the leak.” Said Melinda in a cranky sort of way. “I don’t like you hanging around with guys that you don’t know.”
“I do too now them!” Lara said indignantly.
“You call him Arcade Guy!”
“I know Seiji!” Lara snapped back defensively. “His name is Chiba Seiji. He’s twenty and is a sophomore at the University of Tokyo and is majoring in Astronomy. Right now he’s working on a project with NASA to create a shuttle cabin that retains more heat than they do now. That way they wouldn’t use up as much fuel heating the shuttle and would have a better chance of always having enough to get back home.”
“You seem to know him well enough.” Melinda said coldly. “You said he’s twenty?” she asked. Lara nodded. “Why do you know him so well and not this other boy?”
“Oh, well… Arcade Guy’s always working when I’m there so we can’t talk, but Seiji comes in to visit and we talk.” Lara said. She wasn’t quite sure why she was trying to downsize her relationship with Seiji. Somehow she had a feeling that for whatever reason Aunt M wouldn’t approve. So far she seemed to be right.
“You talk. You want to stay in Japan because you talk to some guy in a video arcade?” skepticism graced Melinda’s voice. She had over thirty years of reading between the lines under her belt from being a social worker who had to worm the truth out of teenagers everyday. “Who is this guy to you?”
Lara sighed. She had no more patience left to finish this conversation. She handed the coco mug to Melinda and got up. “I’m going to bed. Can we finish this in the morning?”
“Of course.” Melinda said. “I’ll go get you a pillow and blanket.”
“What? Why aren’t they on my bed?” Lara asked surprised.
“Oh, well, Noah’s staying in your room.” Melinda said quietly hoping that Lara wouldn’t hear.
“What!” Lara exclaimed. “Aunt M! You know you can’t bring kids home! You could get fired!”
“I know, but he has nowhere else to go. This is why I need you here, Lara.” She told her as she left the room for the bedding.
© Copyright 2006 Skaity (UN: skaitylin at Writing.Com).
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