Tea Leaves and Silver Rings

Tina

Match Nine: Tina:

-Tina-

I am an American born in China. My parents originally came from North Carolina before my dad’s job got moved overseas. About a year later in Beijing, I was born in ’94. Thirteen years later, I met Ju. While I am hyped up and loud, she’s more level and chill. She likes me the way I am and me the same with her. Our friendship looks strange, but I am really helping her. Without me or Qin, Ju would live a rather lonely existence.

She and I go way back. I met her that first day at junior high. My mom wanted me to go to a school outside of our community of all foreigners. She wanted me to really experience life in China outside our “bubble”. I remember being mad because I wanted to go to school with my elementary school friends. I had gone into this school expecting to hate it. Ten minutes before class started, I turned at my desk and saw this Chinese girl about my age a few seats down from me. She appeared to be staring off into space. I couldn’t turn away from her. Something about this girl seemed gloomy, almost out of sorts. If I were to try and touch her, my hand would probably go through her.

I didn’t know why I did this then and I still don’t now, but I got up and sat next to her. First, I waved to get her attention. When that failed to produce any resolves, I poked her on her skinny little arm. She slowly turned her head. No emotion on her face what so ever.

“Helloooo!” I said. “You’re first time at this school too?” (Not the best conversation starter, but I just dove in with this.) This girl blinked at me at first. I didn’t think she ever saw a white person before. I bet I looked like an alien with two heads to her.

“I’m Tina Rackley,” I said. “And you are?” I didn’t think I was going to get much of anything out of her. I was thinking of another tactic to approach her when I saw her lips moving.

“I’m sorry?” I asked.

“Ju,” she said again.

“Ju?”

“Yes.”

I broke into a huge grin. “Nice to meet you, Ju!” She looked at me as if she was trying to figure out what my motives were.

“Let’s be friends,” I said.

“Why?” she asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know. Be my friend, please?”

“Okay…” We stopped talking as soon as the teacher walked into the room. I didn’t stop trying to befriend Ju. I practically stalked her at school. (Note, if you want someone to be your friend, don’t stalk them to death.) By October, she threw up her hands at our lockers.

“You win,” Ju said. “We’ll be friends.”

“Yay!” I said. I rushed forward and hugged her skinny frame. “We’re going to be best friends!”

“Please stop touching me,” Ju said in a low voice.

Ju and I grew close over the years. She is a really great person. However, that girl’s always seemed so lonely. Ju didn’t seemed to have much going on for her in her life. Her father raised her to be the heir to the clan. She had no brothers or sisters. Her mom died when she was really young. Because of this, Ju lived with her Dad. Oh buddy.

I remember when I first talked to him. Ju and I exchanged phone numbers that summer after out freshman year. On that first day of break, I decided to call my friend.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Who is this?” a man’s voice asked. I didn’t know how to proceed with this. When this guy spoke, I about fell off my bed.

“Uh… is Ju Liao there?” I asked.

“There is nobody here by that name!” he shouted. I stared at my phone after he hung up. My first thought was that I accidentally dialed the wrong number. So, I hit redial.

“Hello?” I asked again.

“We’re sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected,” the same man said before hanging up. It was him, but he was talking while holding his nose. For some reason, that man didn’t seem to like me calling Ju. Later, I finally managed to call her up and she explained the whole situation after she got the phone away from her Dad.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “My dad’s not too fond of foreigners.”

“Oh,” I said.

“He’s a bit strict, but he’d probably think you were okay once he got to know you.”

“Uh-huh.” It took Bik and Hen-to to try and convince Ju’s dad that it was okay for her and I to be friends. I think he took it rather begrudgingly because he figured that it would be pointless to break us up in the end. Plus, he figured that Ju would need some friends outside of the clan sooner or later. In short, her Dad saw me as a necessary evil.

To be honest, I was one of the first people to befriend Ju outside of the clan. Those guys are all she has. Her clan is her family. Even more so since her dad’s death. She has to keep her family together because she has nothing else. Qin and I have been there for her since junior high.

“Please stay friends with her,” Bik asked when we were finishing junior high. “It’s really nice to see her talking to somebody outside of the clan for a change.” She’s really awesome like that, you know? Now that I think about, if you took Qin, Yao, the clan, and me out of the picture, Ju would really live a lonely existence. Her parents are done and her uncle is a con man. She may act like it isn’t much, but we all can see that she has been struggling lately.

Right now, Ju is really going to need me. She doesn’t see it yet, but there is another invasion coming for her. One that is a pretty blue-eyed Belgian who can’t seem to take a hint that she’s married now and that he should go back to his own wife. Too bad, he is pretending that he doesn’t know what “go back to Belgium” means. I gritted my teeth as I clutched my cell phone. Looks like it’s time to call in for back-up. For that, I had to dial the one number I wasn’t fond of, but knew would help me out.

“Hey, Mei,” I said as I stood on my back balcony, looking out on the city. I know we don’t like each other, but we’ve got a common enemy this time. Yeah, how do you feel about kicking the ass of a blue-eyed Belgian pretty boy? Oh yes, he’s back. And he doesn’t know what “go back to Belgium” means. Want to help me out before he becomes a home wrecker?” I could feel myself smiling. “Good, where do you want to meet up?”


-Moscow-

Ivan sat in the airport, brooding. His boss decided that it was take to pay the Tandeki Group their semi-annual visit. Wang Jia was left to tend to the house for the next six days. Lin Ying was sound asleep beside him as they waited for his party arrive.

The Russian man took out his phone and looked at the text he received last night. “Send away the tigers.” Only he, his party, and the inner circle of Tandeki knew the significance of this phrase. The Tadpole project had started back up in January and now it was time to see the progress again. Though, Ivan had a couple things to wonder on this trip. His boss asked him to bring his wife along. The big Russian man didn’t question it out loud, of course.

“She might be our good luck charm,” his boss told him over the phone three days ago. “I would like to meet her.” Ivan had learned a long time not to ask questions even if the order didn’t make any sense. Still, another thought took a more predominant position in his head. How exactly were they going execute the grand scheme of this game? The older countries already heard about the Woman in Red coming back. It wouldn’t long before the younger countries learned about the hideous truth heading their way.

Even though, Ivan had to deal with keeping his involvement in the dark. He remembered the first time he went to Ikebukuro to see this Tadpole Project in its early stages. Back in 1990, the big Russian man wasn’t sure why they wanted him to go all the way to Japan with a small research group to see “modified humans” as Kitano-sensei called them. His boss and the head of the team thought it was a joke at first, but the doctor turned therapist was confident in his project. One look at those dazed out test subjects on the beds of Chou Mori Institution and the research group had to get more involved. So far, Kitano-sensei and Asato-sensei kept them at arm’s length with their work.

Over the years, Tadpole had evolved and grew more sophisticated. Through all of that, the goal stayed simple for four decades. Even today, the method and goal didn’t change. However, the Russian team wanted in on the project, claiming they could do it better. Kitano-sensei refused. The head of the group even paid for him to take some of the tadpoles back to Russia with them to rest their own tests. Still, the Japanese psychiatrist turned them down. Still, the Russian team came over to observe Tadpole’s progress twice a year.

Ivan looked at the time on his phone. 12:01 a.m. Their private plane was due to land about one or two in the morning. He leaned back against his chair and sighed. The project head is determined to take Chirin back for his own research. Ivan could already predict where this would be headed this June. They would probably try again in December as well. He didn’t see why he had to come along and bring his young wife, but he didn’t have any way of telling his boss no. Now that he thought about it, his boss was insane. Not exactly friendly to the…

“Ivan!” a man called out. The big Russian man looked up and saw a group of men in dark gray coats walking towards him. Ivan rose to his feet.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Are we ready to go?” the head of the team asked.

“Yes, but the plane isn’t here yet,” Ivan answered.

“How long before it arrives?”

“About an hour or so. What shall we do until then?”

“We wait.”

Ivan looked back at Lin Ying still sound asleep in her seat. He didn’t really explain what was going on, but he said that he would let her visit Kiku while they were in Ikebukuro. Hearing that made her perk up for the first time in a long time. Ivan rushed her to pack up, but he let her sleep on the way to the airport. She didn’t need to know the real intention of this visit. All Lin Ying knew was they were going to be in Japan for six days.

Around 1:15 a.m., the small private plan pulled into the airport. Ivan shook his wife awake.

“Get up,” he said. “It’s time to go.” Lin Ying yawned as she slowly fluttered open her eyes.

“Wha?” she asked in a soft voice.

“We have to go,” Ivan said. “Our plane is here.” His young wife mumbled to herself half-asleep as she picked up her bright pink shoulder bag. Ivan, Lin Ying, and the research team boarded the plane in single file. The young wife walked while wanting to go back to sleep. She was happy to do so once they all took their seats on the plane.

Ivan and his party would land in Japan at about nine in the morning.

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