Friday, March 7, 2014

Generation 3: One step forward, two steps back ...

Graduation day came bright and sunny, but the Shin Yi clan was dealing with an issue, per their usual. Very unexpectedly, Gastion Dutiel had keeled over in the garden, and the shock of his passing left his son Rémy a sorry shadow of his usual, cheerful self. The family showed up to Étienne's morning graduation in somber black; the funeral was at 1 p.m. 

Xiu sighed as they stood in front of the grave. Another funeral—another untimely death. If she could have had her way, she wouldn't be here. But her son had begged for her to come, and so here she was. Her husband stood beside her, his graying head bowed. She was sure that he was suffering more than he let on. She looked out at the swiftly-flowing creek, at the trees, at the sky—anywhere but at the grave. 

"I'm sorry for the poor timing of this announcement," Étienne murmured as he leaned against a mouldering tombstone, hands jammed in his suit slacks. "But I think we need to have another family talk about what we're going to do about the house." 

"You are right," Layla snapped. "This is a poor time to do something like this." 

She began to wheel her chair away, but unexpectedly, found that the wheels had been locked. She glared at her daughter, who scowled right back.

"I don't want to be here either, but if Étienne wants us to listen, then we're going to listen. All of us. And no one is leaving until he's finished."

Once he had everyone's (unwilling) attention, Étienne began again. "I think it's high time we had an actual, proper home."

Layla snorted in disgust and  made to leave again.  This time Xiu physically blocked her. "Listen to him, mother." 

"Listen to him?" Layla said, incredulously. "A man has died and the boy concerns himself with building houses? This is what he wants to discuss at a time like this?"

"Yes, grandma. This is what I want to discuss. And I want to discuss it now, because we haven't talked about it for years and we won't discuss it all at the rate we're going. Do you realize that for almost ten years we've been living in a half-built shell? The house isn't safe or secure. Anyone could break in, easily. Frankly, I'm surprised we haven't been robbed yet. The second floor has never been completed, let alone floor three. We've never had guests over because we're all ashamed for anyone to see where we live. If we lived any further in town, the house would have been condemned by now."

He straightened up and looked at his grandmother sternly. "Maybe you've forgotten what it's like to live in a normal house because we've been in this half-built one for so long, but I'm telling you right now, I don't intend to live like this for the rest of my life. I don't intend to live like this by this time next year."

"What is your point?" Layla said, in a voice that most grandmas would not use on their grandchildren.  She was watching her grandson warily, as if he was a venomous snake about to strike, and Xiu remembered the arguments that her parents used to have with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She only barely felt Rémy's hand on her back, holding her steady. 

"I've already called a moving company to put our things into storage," Étienne continued on. "They should be done by now. The demolition team will be on our old lot in the morning. Construction on the new house will start by next Friday."

The silence directed towards him was deafening. His grandmother's face was a mask of fury. His mother's face by contrast was shocked, but submissive. And his father? … his father was looking at him with a new, odd expression. An expression of great surprise ...

 … and respect? 

Étienne continued on. "I've already booked rooms at the Starlight Inn. An accessible room for you, of course, Grandma, and a suite for mom and dad—it has a kitchenette, so you can cook. I worked out a long-term deal with the manager, since you'll all be there for a while—" 

"Wait," Xiu interrupted. "Where are you going to be?"

"Living with a friend, and starting my new job in business development at Murchison & Yost. And keeping track of the house's progress, of course, so that costs don't go over budget. After all, it's no good to build a nice house if you bite off more than you can chew." 

This last comment earned him a particularly nasty look from his loving grandmother. 

"I've made sure to source all of the home's materials from sustainable sources that are made domestically to minimize delays. Even allowing the work crew a cushion of thirty days of non-work for unexpected delays, I have a reasonable expection that we'll be back home in eight months." 

There was more silence, as the adults struggled to absorb this news. Xiu was more glad than ever for Rémy's arm, tightly holding her from behind. Her legs would have collapsed otherwise. Not only had their son effectively made them homeless, but now he proposed to complete a new home from the ground up in eight months? ... it was insanity. And the worst of it was, he had spoken so winningly, so suavely, so authoritatively, that none of them could even find the words to speak against his plan. No one except Layla, that is, and even she was having trouble making a complete sentence.

"Well," Layla finally huffed, after several minutes of awkward silence. "It seems as though you've been very busy plotting behind my back—"

"There's no plot, Grandma. I'm thinking in the best interests of the family. And of my future family."

"Of course you are," Layla said in a stony voice. "I am certain all that you have done is with the family in mind. Please, explain how you intend to pay for all of this? I do not recall that the family is very well off, and of course because you have planned all of this so intricately, you realized that people will not build houses for free."

"No, they don't. Which is why I've rented out Grandpa Kim Chong's paintings to an art gallery in Chicago. There are other galleries that were interested in displaying his work as well. I've even had a few offers for one of his paintings—"

Xiu gasped with horror. "Oh, please tell me you didn't sell them!"

"—don't worry, Mom! I turned down all offers, and believe me, some of them were pretty damn high. All I'm saying is, they're popular enough for people to pay to see them. The residuals from the first showings will keep us all going for at least three months."

"And what are we to do when people grow tired of looking at paintings?" Layla asked with evident hostility in her voice. 

"I have a deal in place with Backyard Winery to begin distributing Grandpa Gastion's wines. My roommate and I will produce, the company will make sure that the wine is sold in the local bistros and wine stores. We earn as much as they sell. I already have a contract in place to exclusively cater a classmate's wedding next month." Étienne folded his arms again. "It's pretty simple, actually."

"Pretty simple," Layla repeated, and sneered. "It is simple for you to come in with all your grand plans and walk all over your grandfather's dream, is it?"

"Wait, Grandma. You say it was my grandfather's dream, but it was really yours, wasn't it? And what did it get you? You've had ten years to make good on your dream and it's gone nowhere. It's your dream to live in a pile of cinder blocks and call that your home? That's your dream?"

"Ungrateful!" Layla shrieked, and turned to the tomb of her dead husband. "Do you hear the child speak to me this way? It is well that you died before our family came to this!" 

She turned back to Étienne, barely able to contain her outrage."So you think that a house is built on your scheming that you have leaned in a single class at school, do you? Where was all of your planning and foresight when for many a month the only money coming into the house was the money I earned by writing until I could hardly move my hands? And now this is your plan, to get rid of me by sticking me in a filthy motel room until I die of shame, and knocking down the home that I have waited all of my life to have? And my own child stands by and does nothing to stop this!" 

With an effort, she kicked the chair locks and tried, again, to roll away. But this time, Rémy himself stood in her path. 

"Mrs. Layla," he said, his voice grave. "Consider our situation. Years ago, you proposed to rebuild my father's chateau. In ten years, it has not been done. If our son is prepared to build a home and finish it in one year, I think he should be given that opportunity, in the same manner that you were. And as he is the family's heir, I support him in his decision."

"I do too," Xiu quickly chimed in.

"Of course you do," Layla said, in a voice full of scorn. 

She looked away at Étienne, contempt evident in every line of her face. "Very well, brat! Have your way, since your parents cannot be bothered to stop you. But this disrespect will come back to you, mark my words!"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Generation 3: Étienne Shin Yi

Coretta Lyons stared at herself in the mirror. The same way she had been staring at herself for the past half-hour. 

She was a pretty girl. Of that, there was no doubt in her mind. Still, though, she was a teenage girl, and tonight was a very important evening. She was going on a date with a guy that she liked very much—she couldn't even truly admit how much she liked him—and under the excitement and pride lay insecurity.

"Does he like my hair up?" she wondered aloud. "Or down?"

 Her cell phone rang, and interrupted her train of thought. It was her date. Of course.

" Hey there, Étienne," she said casually. Stay calm. "I'm almost ready. … you're still coming, right?"
"Of course I am. Been looking forward to it all week."

"You have? That's great, me too!" That was not calm! "… I'll see you soon, then!"

 "You too," the voice on the other end said with a chuckle.

"… way to go, doofus," she sighed as she hung up. "Make him think you've never been out with anyone.” With another sigh, she went into the bathroom, where the curling iron waited.

Forty-five minutes later, she was sitting very calmly in her reading chair. At least, she would have been calm, if she hadn't kept fidgeting out of sheer nervousness. The dress felt funny, and her nylons itched, and she wasn't so sure that pinning half her hair up was such a good idea after all. But it was too late to change it now. She could see the black SUV outside.

Still, she remained sitting. She could already hear her mother voice, sternly reminding her that a lady didn't run out of the door, and a gentleman always came inside first. So she waited patiently, more or less, until she heard the doorbell ring.

There was the sound of conversation and a "Wait right here," before her mother came upstairs to call her down. "Now remember, I want you home by 9 p.m. sharp," Mrs. Lyons said firmly, and Coretta nodded. "And you walk down those stairs, mind you. Act like a young lady, I don't care how excited you are."

Étienne was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, holding flowers. But Coretta didn't see them. She was too busy staring. 

"Oh my god! …. where's your hair?"

"Wha—? … oh, right. I cut it, mom's orders. What do you think?"

Mom's orders ... boy, did she know all about those!

"You look amazing," she breathed out. All dignity gone, just like that.

"Well, I guess I look good. But you look fabulous." He shyly offered her purple daisies, which she took with delight. "Oh, thank you! I'll just put these in a vase—" 

"Oh, for pity's sake, you two! Don't you have a date to be on? … give me those flowers and get going!" And Mrs. Lyons shooed them out of the door.  Étienne held it open for Coretta to leave first before following slowly behind. Mrs. Lyons confirmed this for herself by glaring out of the window at their backs until the truck pulled out of sight. 

 Their reservation at the Bistro was acknowledged by the gray-haired maitre'd. But, the older woman informed them, the restaurant was full, and being teenagers, they could not eat at the bar. "I hope outside is to your liking?"

"Sure," Étienne shrugged, and went back outside to tell Coretta the new arrangement. 

To make amends, the senior hostess promised that their food would come out quickly. Étienne accepted this with good grace, as did Coretta. They sat with their glasses of iced tea and tried to bridge the unexpected silence.

"This … this dress," Coretta finally began hesitantly. "I … bought it a year ago. It's been in my closet in the plastic wrapping, never worn, never touched. Never really even looked at. It cost more than I made all summer, delivering papers. When Mom told me that she couldn't afford to pay for me to go to prom, I almost threw it in the trash."

"Why would you throw away something that took you all summer to earn?"

"… pride," Coretta said frankly. "If I couldn't wear it to prom, I didn't want to wear it at all."

Another silence.

"What changed your mind?"

"… you asked me out," she said, and went pink despite her best efforts.

The food arrived in under fifteen minutes, sparing either of them from further confessions. 

They ate their dinners quietly. Coretta shared bites of her lobster tail with her date and smiled sweetly at him. Étienne, for his part, was too shy to meet her eyes anymore, and stared deep into his seafood spaghetti.

The meal finished, they lingered at the table until Étienne stood and offered Coretta his hand. He led her to a nearby park bench, where they sat, shuffling awkwardly. Coretta brushed imaginary lint from her stockings, and Étienne cleared his throat repeatedly without actually speaking.

"Did you want to say something?" Coretta suddenly asked, turning to him, and leaning against his arm before he could move it. 

"Ah … I did … I mean, I … well, I didn't want to … say … something …"

Despite everything, Coretta giggled. She couldn't help it. He was so ridiculously cute when he blushed all over.

"… so … do it," she whispered, and leaned over just a little more.

But before anything at all could happen, a wriggling gray ball leapt into Coretta's lap, and the moment was spoiled. For Étienne, at least. Coretta didn't seem to mind in the least.

With a small sigh, he checked his watch. 8:48 p.m. He needed to get her back her home anyway, or there wouldn't be any other dates and other opportunities to kiss. That thought kept him from feeling too disappointed. 

He brought her home right on time and only stayed long enough for a quick squeeze. 

Then he was on his way home, and Coretta was smiling foolishly at her mother, who had appeared from nowhere to pester her about the date and whether that Shin Yi boy was too forward. 

"Of course he wasn't!" Coretta protested, giggling. "He was an absolute gentleman all night long. Why, I think I'm going to marry him!"


At home, Étienne stared at his homework, totally unable to concentrate. He was certain that he liked Coretta Lyons. And he was certain that Coretta Lyons liked him.

They would be done with school in less than three months.

For the first time in years, he looked around at his home, and felt distinctly dissatisfied. They had been living in a half-finished house for his entire childhood. But things were going to change once he became an adult. 

"Oh yeah they are," he muttered quietly, and went back to solving math problems.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Generation 2: What we leave behind (PG-13)

Please note: This chapter contains brief nudity and sexual content.

As much as she possibly could, Xiu avoided the new house and clung to the old trailer. But the time soon came when she had to give it up for loss. Specifically, she woke up in the family bedroom (it was the family bedroom because all six of them slept there) smelling smoke. And not cooking smoke, but the acrid smell of scorched wood and melting plastic. She darted outside as quickly as she could and ran around the house, just in time to see the trailer being consumed by flames.

The firefighter who showed up didn't bother to even combat the blaze. It was too late, he said. The fire was started by a combination of the leaves covering the roof, and the pine needles littered under the crawl space. Besides, it was just an old trailer, it wasn't worth anything. Completely exasperated, filthy, and still very tired, Xiu could do little but go back to bed.
She was still moody at breakfast, when Gaston began to talk about "a trip" and something that he had found on the internet. She stared into her cup and only half-listened until Rémy turned to her and said, "Darling, Étienne is asking you a question."

"Hmm? What is it, sweetie?"

"Mom, didn't you hear Granddad?"

"Not really. I'm a little distracted."

"Oh, geez," Étienne grumbled. "He's only asking you if I can go to France with him in a month and be out of school for two weeks. Guess that's not important enough to listen to." 


"So you're just going to get to go to France? Just because? Geez, Étienne, are you like the luckiest guy in our class or what?"

"Well, it's kind of business …"

"Business?" Now Coretta looked even more envious. "What kind of business could you possibly have in France?"

"It's my grandfather, he's going to collect grape vines, and he wants me to come with him."

"Geez," Coretta snorted. "All my grandfather does is fart during the best parts of a movie. So when are you gonna go?"

"In a few weeks."

"Aww, so soon?" she cooed. "I'll miss you." 

And she came just a little closer to him, but just then there was a knock at the door, and the classmates had to end their conversation there. Rémy Dutiel was outside, waiting to pick up his son and take him back home. 

And Étienne knew what he'd be doing at home. Right after his homework was done, he was expected to help his grandfather make wine. 

Gaston had seen something in his grandson that he liked very much indeed. Even though Rémy had initially become an environmental graduate student to help his father with the family vineyards back in France, almost all of his learning was useless in the United States. The soil was different, the standards were different, the techniques were different. Besides, as Rémy pointed out, he hadn't even finished his master's program, and no one was going to put much confidence in a guy with only half a degree. And in any case, he was doing well enough at the hospital that he didn't want to leave his job. So now Gaston was pouring his hopes and dreams for his new vineyard into his grandson. And Étienne had proved a most willing listener and an excellent pupil.

They had spent many a night in the garden, looking over the fruit trees that Kim Chong Shin Yi had planted so long ago. Gaston knew the varieties, could easily tell the difference between the six apple trees by a mere glance at their papery leaves. They were good plants, he said. They had strength and vitality. But as far as wine-making went, they lacked depth and soul. Good wine required grapes. The best grapes in the world came from Champs Les Sims. He said so, and it was so.  He fully intended to go back there … and he wanted his grandson with him.

Xiu, predictably enough, was not sold on the idea. But Gaston persisted. There was no real excuse for Étienne not to go—he was a straight A student and he had no other responsibilities. Besides, France was his heritage, and he should see his homeland. 

Eventually, Xiu ran out of excuses, and Gaston won. Étienne would get to go. When Gaston mentioned off-handedly that Layla was coming too, Xiu could do little besides sigh.

"Calme-toi, ma cheré," Rémy chuckled when she told him. "It will be fine. My father will keep him out of any trouble. Étienne should get to see more of the world while he is young. It may be more difficult for him when he becomes older and has responsibilities."

"Yeah, but—"

"And remember, we all sleep in the same room. If three people leave, it is more time for us to spend together alone."

… well, she couldn't deny that, could she. 


For some time now, Mei had been rushing home right after work and spending an unusual amount of time prettying up before running off to the stadium. She'd even cut her spiral curls down to a shaggy bob, a drastic move that left her sister speechless. 

At first Xiu suspected that it had something to do with her latest undercover assignment—Mei was working at the stadium, trying to catch a steroid smuggler—but she soon found out that she was quite wrong. No, the real issue was that there was a hotshot rookie on the team whom Mei suspected of being on the take, and in her efforts to stay close to him, she was falling hard, like a stone in a pond.  

Mei Shin Yi was a good cop and no one's fool, but she was still human, and Luther Ybarra was seriously attractive, at least Xiu thought so. She'd seen pictures of him, in the paper, on the news, all around town on the local billboards, in candid shots on Mei's phone. At first she thought that it was a silly puppy love situation; after all, Mei couldn't stop grinning when she talked about him. But then the investigation deepened, and Mei began to keep her peculiar hours again, vanishing for twelve hours at a time, showing up at 5 a.m. reeking of cologne. It didn't take a genius to put the pieces together and see what was going on. 

"Am I lonely?" Mei wondered aloud. "Or just stupid? C'mon, sis, tell me I'm stupid." 

"You're stupid."

"Yeah, right. I'm not stupid. I'm freakin' brilliant. Damn it … why the hell can't he just be a dumb jock? I could ignore him if he was just another meathead. But nooooo … he's gotta be smart. And hot. Why the hell is he so hot?"

"You really want love advice from me?"

"No, I do not. I want Luther Ybarra to transfer to another city. Or get injured so he can't play. Or to just … get a girlfriend so I can stop staring at him!"

But Luther wasn't getting any girlfriends. If anything, the attraction between him and Mei was completely mutual, and he certainly encouraged her attention, something Mei gave to him readily, among other things.  Xiu thought that they were rushing things, and wondered if her sister might be nursing a broken heart again once the investigation concluded. Mei told her sister to keep her opinion to herself. She was a big girl, she knew that sex and love weren't necessarily mutual. "And besides, it's my ass on the line if he screws me over, not yours. I can take care of myself."

Mei's work hours during a police sting could be described as "erratic at best." Now that the mission was drawing to its inevitable end, one never knew when she might come home. She frequently fell asleep on the dining room table, jumping awake at the vibration of her beeper.
One night she left the house abruptly at 10 p.m. and didn't call or check in with Xiu or Rémy for the rest of the night. She wasn't there when Xiu woke up at 6 a.m., she didn't call all day, and she didn't actually reappear until 9:30 p.m. Xiu yelled at her for making them worry, but nothing could wipe the huge grin off her face. Exasperated, Xiu could do little but make cocoa for them both. "I hope you at least caught your suspect?"

"Huh? … oh yeah, we caught that dumb bitch yesterday. She kicked the window outta my squad car, I could've fuckin' choked her coke-head self. But who cares about her. Check this out!" And she proudly showed off her left hand. Xiu stared. 

"Sis! … really?"


"But … you didn't tell anyone …"

"No, why should I? He wanted to get married and so did I, and neither one of us wanted a big ceremony, so we just got our rings and did it as soon as City Hall opened!"

Xiu scrutinized her younger sister's face and saw little but honest joy. It was probably no coincidence that Mei had gotten married while their very particular mother was overseas. Xiu could easily imagine that as wholesome as Luther seemed to be, Layla would have found something to dislike about him. Still, there was nothing to complain about, she supposed. Mei was grown—"damn grown," as she liked to put it during arguments—and she was an intelligent woman, not to mention entirely unsentimental. If she wanted to get married to a guy whom she had only met four months ago, that was her call. 

"You're damn right it's my call. And just so you know, I'm movin' in with him as soon as I get my next paycheck. So when Mom comes back and asks where I am, you can tell her I'm over at the Parkwest Arms with Luther. And if she doesn't like it, she needs to stay the hell away." 

"I'll … make sure to tell her so."


Étienne pulled into the tiny parking lot at school in his equally tiny car. He had never entirely understood how his family could afford to travel to France when they had to drive rustbucket vehicles. But broaching that topic was sure to lead to a fight on someone's behalf. Besides, he had bigger things to worry about. What if someone else had already asked Coretta to the prom?

And speaking of Coretta, she was leaning idly on the bike racks, staring down at her cute little feet. She looked up as soon as he shut the driver's side door. "You're back!" she shouted. "Tell me about France! How was it?" 

"Eh …" Étienne shrugged. He began to ask about the upcoming dance, but she was too quick, and too determined to talk about France. "I wish I could go overseas! But I can't go anywhere, my god, not even to the movies. Mom says we're too broke. There's no way I'm gonna make prom, we can't afford it."

"Oh," Étienne murmured, disappointed. But Coretta was already smacking his shoulders eagerly. "But don't worry about that! Tell me about all the cool stuff you did in France!"

"I didn't really do anything super cool," he protested. "My dad's dad took my mom's mom to a winery, and she hated it and complained the whole time, he says. So after that, we left her at the hotel when we went out and got samples of grapevines. That was pretty much it for ten days."

"That's it?" Coretta wailed. 

"I told you, we didn't do anything super-fun! It was business!"

"But it's France! It's romantic!" 

"No It wasn't. It was dirty and the food tasted weird and everyone wore way too much perfume." The first bell rang, warning him that his opportunity was rapidly slipping away. "Hey, listen. It wasn't a fun trip and I don't really wanna keep going on about it. Are you definitely not going to prom?"

"I told you, I can't afford—"

"Okay, so you can't afford prom. What about a date on prom night, then? Just you and me and a walk in the park."

"But we'd need to go dutch, and  I can't even afford"

"No dutch. My treat. Totally my treat."

She sighed, but she was blushing. The second bell rang. They were late. They were both probably going to get detention. But he wasn't going anywhere until she answered him. And she just stood there, scarlet, twisting her toes into the sand.

Finally she mumbled, "Sure," and ran away, her blond ponytails flying wildly behind her. 


Layla did have something to say about her younger daughter's lightning courtship, and she was absolutely unrestrained in her rudeness. Mei listened to it as long as she could stand before hanging up and tossing her phone into the spare bedroom. 

"Who was that, babe?" Luther called from the living room. 

Mei got two beers, one for each of them, and joined him on the couch. He watched television while she stared off at nothing. 

"Nobody," she muttered. "Just a telemarketer."