Chapter 39 - The Call
"Where's the spider?" Uncle Jake asked, his eyes wide open as he scanned the whole room. His nostrils were flaring as well since he ran up the stairs as soon as Aunt Lizzy screamed.
Dad looked a bit confused when he entered the room and I concealed an embarrassed sigh. This isn't happening
"Gone. Oh well!" Aunt Lizzy shrugged her shoulders as she jumped off the bed like nothing happened.
"Was it the perverted one?" Uncle Jake asked.
"Perverted one?" Dad almost laughed but he hid it well. There was something weird about him today. I don't know what it was, but I could feel something off.
I hope I was just randomly thinking this to distract myself from this predicament.
"No," Aunt Lizzy replied in all seriousness in her tone. "But there were two spiders this time. One was on top of the other. I was so surprised."
"Oh my Go--" Kristina mumbled and then clamped her mouth shut. She didn't even bother to look at how she just gathered all the attention to herself.
I understood though. I was this close to cursing out loud myself. But that seemed like a pretty bad idea since both our parents were present.
And her mom just walked in on us in that compromising position--Oh my God indeed.
I struggled keeping my hands in my pockets because I was in desperate need to cover my face. I don't know if I was heating up right now. But I don't want to look too suspicious.
How bad must Aunt Lizzy think of me now? She caught us in the shower that one time too. I can't...
"Daniel what were you doing when those spiders came out?" Dad cleared his throat and sounded all strict and scolding. "You know the girls are terrified of them."
I swallowed hard.
What was I doing? Not being a good boy that's for sure. And if they didn't come back today, I would've...
Okay brain, now's really not the time for any wild fantasies.
Unholy thoughts, begone. Wait, I think I already used that line before. Unholy thoughts, leave. Depart. Hm. I'm running out of synonyms.
Unholy thoughts, bugger off, withdraw, pull out.
Wow. My thoughts really aren't picky with the timing.
I need a new brain.
"I..." I mumbled, raking my good for nothing brain for a good excuse. I'm running out of ideas. "Uhm..."
"Oh he got the two to bounce away from each other and now they're good little spiders cowering in fear somewhere because they got exposed," Aunt Lizzy waved an airy hand before showing us a bright and cheery smile. "So who wants dinner?"
I swear she just shortened my lifespan.
I really can't handle Aunt Lizzy... I hope the dads didn't get her references.
"Let's go eat while the food's still hot," dad said, rubbing his hands together. Thank God, he didn't notice. "We ordered Chinese."
I made a mental sigh of relief when everyone decided to drop the subject. One by one, we left the room and headed downstairs for dinner.
Kristina and I glanced at each other, still awkward but we managed a small laugh. Our situation was ridiculous.
I think I should have a talk with Aunt Lizzy sometime soon. She keeps catching me in the act. Now I think she doesn't see me good for her daughter...
Dinner went smoothly even though I was holding my breath for what seemed like an hour. The adults were talking about their trip with such enthusiasm.
And here I was getting worried about a lot of things since this morning. I almost felt sick.
Kristina was right beside me. She linked her fingers with mine under the table and gave my hand a light squeeze. She must have sensed that I was getting all tense.
The warmth of her hand calmed me down for a bit, but there was still this lingering feeling of worry in my gut. I felt like I needed to talk to my dad about this.
Even though I'm not sure what this is.
I remembered earlier, the sound of that camera. The feeling that someone was watching me. I couldn't shake it off.
Please, please don't let this be what I think it is.
Dinner ended with me barely touching my food. I had so many thoughts in my head. They were all getting mixed up.
The adults were still immersed in a conversation at the table, so Kristina decided to head up first. I followed her.
When we reached the front of her door, she turned around and gave me a sweet smile. I didn't even notice the corners of my lips tugging up in reply.
"Don't worry about a thing," she said, then opened her arms for a hug. "See you tomorrow?"
She was actually doing this? She was being so sweet. I can't be this lucky. I must be daydreaming.
Shrugging my thoughts aside and not wanting to miss this opportunity, I stepped forward and gave her a hug.
She wrapped her arms around my waist since I was taller than her and I kissed the top of her head when she tightened her embrace.
With that simple gesture, my worries melted away. Or maybe I just got distracted by her that those worries didn't seem to matter anymore.
I really didn't want to let go but she had to go to bed now. She was tired. I hid a sulk.
I won't get to sleep next to her tonight since our parents were back. I might never get that chance again; at least not for a while.
If I knew last night would be the last, I wonder what I would've done?
Before I completely released her from my arms, I cupped her cheeks and stared into her beautiful eyes. She smiled at me sweetly again and I was weak. Not being able to resist, I gave her a kiss on the forehead.
"Not counted," I mumbled. She rolled her eyes before she snorted and pulled away from me, reaching for her door.
"Good night butthead," she teasingly cooed as she finally entered her room and closed the door.
I was still smiling like a fool. But suddenly my chest and arms were cold. This sucks.
I turned around to go back downstairs when I saw two heads sticking out of the bathroom door. I cursed in an undiscovered language before I forced my mouth closed.
"M-May I help you gentlemen?" I panicked too much; I stuttered with an English accent.
Somebody shoot me.
Dad and Uncle Jake revealed themselves and cleared their throats. I cleared my throat as well. What the heck was happening?
Dad tried to look serious but his snickering gave himself away. I wanted to glare at him but Uncle Jacob's stare was a bit too intimidating for me to do so.
After staring at me for a while, I gulped the same time he cleared his throat again.
"Nothing." He said. "I noticed that the guest room was locked and there's half a key stuck inside the keyhole."
I gulped again.
I'm gonna die.
"I wonder where my poor son slept when that room got locked," dad sighed, sounding insincerely worried. He was having fun. "The couch I wonder? Was it cold at night?"
I didn't mean to, but memories of those nights fleeted into my mind. When she squeezed in the couch with me to keep me warm, when she asked me to sleep next to her, when she snuggled on my chest and quietly breathed on my neck, when she kissed me...
"It was pretty warm," I replied. Then I mentally smacked myself. I hope that was the correct answer.
Dad made a knowing face and luckily Uncle Jake didn't see it because he was standing right in front of him.
My own dad was digging my grave why.
"I fixed it," Uncle Jake simply said. He was referring to the guest room's doorknob. "You can sleep there now."
I looked at my dad confused. "I'm still sleeping here?"
Dad looked up for a split-second and I immediately knew there was something going on. I knew him well enough to figure that out.
"Yes. I'm off to a business trip for a few days and our house still reeks of paint. So I'm leaving you in Jake and Lizzy's care for a few more days."
I raised my brows as I maintained eye-contact with my dad. Why was he averting his gaze? He was being so obvious. "What business trip?"
"Let's go talk in your supposed-to-be room for the last few days instead of talking here in front of the bathroom." Dad said, smiling smugly at me. "We might wake the sleeping princess."
I glanced at Uncle Jake and he was sweating.
I wanna curl into a ball and roll away from this torture.
Uncle Jake led us to the guest room where I stayed for only about two hours before I got locked out of it for scaring Kristina.
"I hope you're comfortable sleeping in this small room." He said, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked a bit troubled. I'm not sure why.
"It's a great room. Thank you for letting me stay here." I politely replied.
There was a short silence before my dad checked his wrist watch. "Okay back to what we were talking about. I'm leaving tonight. In a few minutes actually. James is already on his way to pick me up and accompany me to the airport."
My eyes widened in surprise. James was my dad's personal driver and bodyguard back at London. "James even flew all the way here?"
"It's a rather important matter. I need someone I trust by my side. Seth is waiting for me as well."
"Uncle Seth too?" I asked again, my voice raising. He was Tops' dad, and my dad's cousin. I connected all the dots since this morning and looked at my dad seriously. "What's going on? Does this have something to do with--"
"Richard?" Dad cut me short. I held my breath when he grimly nodded. "Yes."
Suddenly all my theories turned into facts. Everything made sense. From the sound of that camera, to dad's unusual behavior, to the guy Ella's dating.
That man had already made his move.
"I'm going with you." I said, determined to take on his challenge. He was an annoying man that always stressed my dad and uncle out. Richard laid low these past few years, but now he's back. More annoying than ever, I'm sure.
"No, you're staying here." My dad said with finality.
I was completely against his decision. "Why? I'm just as involved in this as you are."
I held more than half the shares in the company, so technically speaking, I was the President of the company while dad was the Director.
Dad shook his head slowly and sighed. It just made want to insist on going with him. "It's best that you stay here, Daniel."
"If he wants to go with you and leave my daughter again, don't stop him Johnny." Uncle Jake interrupted, his expression stoic and his tone cold as ice.
I swear I felt all the color drain from my face. I didn't know how to react, but there were tornadoes of emotions wrecking havoc inside of me right now that I can't seem to get out.
I was guilty. I wasn't thinking.
And I panicked.
"No!" I couldn't help but yell. How do I explain myself? Shit. "No that's not what I... I mean... I mean..."
Just as I was fumbling in my words and slowly dying in front of them, my dad broke into a fit of laughter. I literally felt like tearing up at that moment until I noticed Uncle Jake hiding a grin himself.
They were playing me.
"Look at my boy panicking!" Dad proudly announced as he continued to laugh his heart out. How was that something to be proud of? "Jake stop teasing the poor boy too much."
I turned my gaze towards him and he was just smiling quietly. It was like he was partly amused, partly serious.
To be safe, I'll take it as he was serious when he said that and just passed it off as a joke so he wouldn't come off too strict or mean.
Uncle Jake was the kindest, gentlest, most patient man I knew ever since I was a kid.
And he was someone I didn't want to upset.
"Wanna know something Daniel?" He asked. I gulped for like the hundredth time today.
He motioned for me to come closer and I did. He leaned over the same time my dad, as if he was going to tell me some sort of secret. And then he said, as-a-matter-of-factly...
"We don't have a neighbor with pink hair."
I don't know what kind of horrible sound came out of my mouth this time.
How many times do I have to die today?
"And a chihuahua, really?" Dad added, shaking his head in mock disappointment.
"When I was your age, I came up with better excuses than that." Uncle Jake said, much to my surprise.
I really didn't know how to react. Were they scolding me, insulting me or supporting me?
And what happened to our conversation?
"And seriously, what's with the spiders?" Dad asked, looking genuinely curious. "We've long figured out that you're the perverted spider."
"No! I'm not--"
"Listen here Danny," Uncle Jake said. He called me Danny. He was trying to kill me again. "I'm not only saying this. But whatever you do to my daughter, I'll do to you."
It took me a moment to make up a clear reaction. And in that moment, I was just gaping at him like an idiot.
I started recalling all the things I did to Kristina, both naughty and nice...
And then imagining Uncle Jake doing all those to me...
"This kid really can't take a joke." He said, flatly.
Dad clicked his tongue. "Dan, you're embarrassing me here."
"What is happening?" I whined, then pitifully dropping my whole weight on the bed. I think I used up all my energy for today.
The adults chorused a hearty laugh; making me stare at them in confusion. I was hoping at least one of them would explain what they were up to, but I was given no such privilege.
They successfully avoided and changed the subject regarding Richard Watanabe.
There was a knock on the door and we found Aunt Lizzy leaning against the frame, sighing.
I wanna hide in a hole.
"Alright that's enough bullying for tonight." She said, obviously suppressing a grin herself. Then she turned to look at dad. "Johnny, there's a man named James looking for you outside."
I wanted to say something or anything but I was reluctant. I wanted to go with dad and help deal with our long-time rival, but I didn't want to leave Kristina without talking to her first.
I know I shouldn't stall as much as I already did, but I feel like I'm never gonna be ready to tell her; explain to her why I left, why I came back and why I might leave again due to my ridiculous circumstances. And the fact that I'm not sure if I'll be able to come back to her this time.
How do I tell her all that? She'll hate me. I'll hate me.
I feel like I'm running out of time. So many things are happening at once.
Dad put a reassuring hand on my shoulder before showing me a warm smile. I couldn't return it.
"Don't think about it too much and just leave it to me."
But that's not...
I took a deep breath and silently released all of it, hopefully along with the tension I was feeling right now.
He thanked Aunt Lizzy and Uncle Jake before he went off. Aunt Lizzy dropped him off by the door and now only me and Uncle Jake are left in the room.
The silence went on for about a minute before he finally broke the ice, much to my relief.
"You're still a kid."
I didn't get what he meant.
He looked at me with a rather solemn expression before he shook his head. "I didn't want to tell you this because I know you'll feel responsible, but you have the right to know."
I was on edge. I could feel the atmosphere getting tense and I just knew where this conversation was leading to.
"When we were on our reunion, Johnny couldn't fully focus because Richard kept calling. A few times a day actually. Pretty persistent of him."
I felt my fists ball up. Why call so many times? What did he want?
"I noticed how Johnny looked stressed after every call. He hid it with his cheerful demeanor every time."
I know. That's how my dad's always been. That's his coping mechanism. If he didn't stay that positive, I don't know how he could've handled my mom's passing, raised a kid like me and growed his business all on his own.
My dad is an amazing man.
And Richard... is not.
"I overheard one of their conversations. Well, arguments, rather. He said he was going to absorb your company to expand his empire. A simple threat but Johnny was hit hard."
I felt like I got punched as well. Only because I knew he was capable of such a feat. No matter how large our company had gotten over the years, Richard still dominated the business world.
He was a notorious tycoon who didn't insist on competing with his rivals, but instead, buys an unbelievable amount of shares overnight to claim ownership and completely take over those companies.
The boards don't even get a say against the insurmountable power that man has over every business he touches.
He and my dad weren't on very good terms back when I was still a kid. It still came as a surprise that he didn't buy our company during our most prosperous years which threatened some of his other businesses.
In fact, I heard he didn't buy our company on purpose because of a certain agreement he had with my dad. I'm not sure if I heard them correctly when I was eavesdropping on their conversation.
That's one of the reasons why my dad and I flew back home. Not only because we were branching out, not only because we missed the Karlins who were like family to us, but because we needed a break.
We needed a break from sitting on the edge of our seats, wondering when Richard will announce his plans to buy the company my dad and I worked so hard for. The company my dad started as a distraction from mourning over my mother's death. The company where my dad found his peace again. The company where I grew up in.
We can't just let him snatch it away from us. I'll never allow it as long as I live.
"Daniel," Uncle Jake softly called, snapping me out of my thoughts. I must have drifted away for a moment there. By the time I was conscious again, my knuckles had already turned white from clenching them too hard. "I heard one of the reasons why he keeps contacting your father, is because he grew an interest in you."
I knew it. I just knew it.
"He said he would only stop bothering Johnny if you came back to meet with him. He's expecting you after New Year's." He continued. I almost spat. I figured that man would do this sooner or later.
I'd rather die than offer him my services.
"Daniel, I know you're an amazing person. Your dad is so proud of you, and so are we." Uncle said calmly, probably noticing how tense I was despite my usual silence. He looked worried. "But you're still a kid. You're not supposed to suffer these kinds of problems yet. You're supposed to enjoy your youth. The years when you're young are much shorter than you think. That's why your father doesn't want you to get involved more than you already are."
I lowered my head, feeling like I was getting scolded. But I had no emotion as he was saying this. I felt responsible. Of course I did.
I was old enough to fight alongside my dad. I didn't want him to face that man alone now that I knew this much.
"Richard is a man I'll never forget as well," he mused. I was surprised he even knew him. "I've known Johnny since we were kids. I grew up with him. And that cheerful fella never lost his cool. Not before he met Richard."
I silently agreed. My dad was usually cool and always had a smile on his face. But whenever Richard was involved... he was pretty scary.
That's why I feel so responsible. Not only because I was co-owner of the company he was threatening, not only because he was my dad's long-time rival...
But because I am my dad's son.
His problems are my problems too.
"I'm not trying to convince you to not fight by your dad's side." He said, honestly. "I just want you to let go of some of those pressure and enjoy your life while you're young. You don't have to be an adult yet."
You don't have to be an adult yet.
His words struck me. No one's told me that before.
But that's what I decided on, years ago. When our company was on a crisis and on the verge of being snatched away, when I completely lost contact with my closest friends, when I realized I couldn't keep my promise to my childhood friend that I treasured so much, when I almost lost all hope for any kind of happiness.
That's when I grew up overnight.
That's when I decided to be an adult.
I raised my head to meet Uncle Jake's eyes. His eyes were filled with sympathy. I never received that kind of look before either.
When it came to people who knew about my identity and my cursed talents, I was used to people staring at me with admiration or envy. I was used to people telling me I should aim higher on certain fields. I was used to the suffocating expectations of strangers. I was used to people treating me like some trophy that needed to be polished every now and then.
So when Uncle Jake said his kind words of advice, I didn't know how to react.
"Uncle Jake," I started, not knowing how I should place my words. "When I was three years old, the first book I ever picked up was a dictionary . The second one was an almanac. When I was six, I could solve logarithms just by seeing the equation once. Abstract Algebra and Physics came easy for me. When I was eleven, I solved three of the original seven Millennium Prize Problems. I was awarded and earned unnecessary attention right after that. When I was twelve, I saved our company from bankruptcy by reviewing and revising financial reports created by a cunning accountant. He lost his license. When I was fifteen, I earned a high rank in our company by myself and got--still get-- hundreds of requests from other companies for financial and other business-related advice. After all that, do you still think I can live like a normal kid?"
Those were to name a few of what I had achieved over the years. I wasn't bragging. I was whining. I don't know how I sounded when I said all those, but it felt so heavy saying them out loud. I never even mentioned these things to my dad before because I didn't want to worry him.
Everything was just... so heavy.
Uncle Jake put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it a bit, his face softening, his eyes turning glassy for a second.
"I know," he said. He was gentle, and I had a sudden urge to tear up, which was weird. "But I'm not telling you to be normal. I don't want you to be."
I hope he meant that in a good way.
"You might be some sort of celebrity back there or some genius to others, but here, you're just Daniel. You're my daughter's favorite person. You're family. And you can live with that despite what you carry on your back and what other people think. Don't you agree?"
I was stunned.
I didn't know what to say.
There was nothing to say. He was right. He was absolutely right. Why haven't I thought of that before?
Maybe it was because I was used to handling a lot of things on my own. Maybe I was used to carrying the world behind my back.
I forgot I had people who had my back.
I was touched. I already knew this, but why had I only realized this now? I was grateful. But still... but still...
"I know what you're thinking," he continued, like he kept reading my mind. "You don't want to involve Tina or us with all the attention you earned with your reputation back there. But we can handle ourselves just fine. And I trust that you'll protect her no matter what."
"Of course." I quickly replied, determined. Then my shoulders sunk, remembering something. "I just... I don't want to disappoint her again by leaving. Uncle Jake, I--"
"Stop." He said, and I shut my mouth. I hid a wince because I feel like I said the wrong things again. But he looked calm, which relieved me for a bit. "I know all about that, Daniel. You don't need to explain. I understand. Do what you have to do."
I nodded my head, guilt piercing my chest. I wish I can just get all of this over with. Put Richard in his place and go back home.
If only it were that easy.
"But you have to tell Kristina properly." He said, calmly but strictly. I knew why. "Tell her ahead of time so she can prepare herself. And you have to come back for her."
"I will," I replied, determined. I have to. I don't have much time left. "I won't take another twelve years if that's what you're thinking."
"I hope so." He nodded, but sent me a piercing glance. I gulped. Okay. I understand that look. He sighed and gave me a hard pat on the back before heading out. "It's getting late, you should go to bed now. Have a good night."
"Uncle Jake," I called before he could step out the room. He glanced at me over his shoulder. I gave him a small smile, a bit shy but very much grateful. His words calmed me down a lot. I needed that kind of reassurance. "Thank you. Good night."
He sent me a brief smile before closing the door. After comprehending the situation for a few minutes, I decided to kick my shoes off and bury myself in my fluffy sheets.
It was comfortable and warm, but I still prefer sleeping on the couch as long as she was right next to me.
And now I suddenly feel lonely.
A few hours later and I didn't realize that I had already drifted into a deep sleep. It was a rather wonderful sleep with her image appearing in my dream. That was until I heard my phone ringing so persistently.
I begrudgingly grabbed my phone and answered it blindly, guessing it was either Tops or Sean.
When I placed my phone on my ear, the all too familiar accent woke me up completely.
"You pick up late."
His voice was stern and cold--impatient even. I squinted at the brightness of my phone to check my notifications. Huh. Fifteen missed calls. I must have slept like the dead.
No wonder he sounded so angry.
"I wait three hours for you to answer. But you no answer."
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. I just woke up in the middle of the night. I was already getting a headache from his voice alone.
"Is there something you need, Mr. Watanabe?" I tried to keep my voice calm and composed. I've never spoken to this man before. But I recognized his voice from the countless times I overhead (eavesdropped) on his conversations with my dad.
"I don't waste time," he said, curtly. "I call you for important reason. If you want to save your company, meet me at my office right after New Year's. You already know the address."
My grip tightened around my phone. "My dad is flying there tomorrow. What do you need me for?"
"Your otou-san tell you nothing?" He said, almost mockingly. I swear if I can magically morph my hand into this phone... "I tell you once we meet. Understood? I hang up now. Oyasumi."
I released a frustrated sigh when the call ended.
Oyasumi his bald head.
I read enough manga to know what that meant. It meant good night. Well I was having a good night until his bald head called.
So he was this serious. He really wants to meet with me. This is really happening. It's finally starting. Alright then.
I was determined to end this dispute once and for all. But first...
I needed to learn Japanese. Fast. Especially curse words, because I'm sure gonna need them.