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.