By company, she probably meant Jinpei. I hadn't heard from him for two weeks. I dialed his number, but got his answering service. Weird. So I slung my backpack of books over my shoulders, climbed onto my bike, and rode home.
The sun had set and it was almost dark by the time I got there. Instead of waiting inside in the living room, I found my houseguest sitting on the porch swing out front. It wasn't Jinpei.
I raced up the steps. "Hi," I said, a little too loud.
He looked like a statue until he moved his head to study me. His voice was startling. "Nice bike."
"Last year's Ducati," I said. "Would you... like something to drink?"
"I think… I want a beer. I'll be right back." I went into the house, still feeling out of breath.
Cynthia, my roommate, was in the kitchen, rinsing her dinner dishes in the sink. She turned and leaned against the counter, watching me with eyes that were just a little too wide. "I thought you'd never get back."
"How long has he been here?"
"About forty five minutes. He said he'd stay outside and wait for you. He didn't want anything." Cynthia likes to play hostess. This must have driven her up the wall.
"Sorry. I had my phone off."
Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Who is he?"
"He's my dad."
"Ssh! Tell you more later." I pulled two bottles of beer out of the refrigerator, popped the tops and headed for the front porch.
Once outside, I put both bottles on the railing before I leaned against it. "Sure I can't change your mind? It's awkward drinking alone."
He leaned forward and took a bottle. "We should have talked more the night you first showed up," he said.
Boy, he doesn't mess around. "I did catch you by surprise, didn't I?" I said. That got me the closest thing to a smile I'd ever seen on him. "I wanted to make sure I reached you, and not just your answering service or your email. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I didn't really think it through."
"Why did you come looking for me?" That could have sounded menacing, but it didn't.
"Well, you're blood family. I thought you should know. My aunt said you didn't know, I don't really know why."
"But you have other blood family."
"I still wanted to meet you. You don't have other family, do you? All the books and articles say you're like the Last of the Mohicans."
"Unless any more of my long-lost children pop out of the woodwork," he said, but he grinned again, a little wider.
"I wonder if they'll be as confused as I am. I wanted to know the whole story. Why my mom did this."
He sat back and watched me, perfectly still. "I don't know why she did it." Maybe I looked disappointed, because he continued. "The name, maybe, though if she wanted notoriety, she should have gone after the Gatchaman. Maybe she liked racing. Maybe she just heard her clock ticking and wanted a child. A lot of women did that during the war. She never left any notes or journals?"
I shook my head.
He stared past me, out at the darkened street. "I'll tell you what I remember of her. I met her at Jun's bar on a Friday night. There was a live band and the place was crowded. She was standing at the bar with two of her girlfriends. She bought me a drink. We talked about the crowd. She reminded me of someone I used to know."
I waited for him to say more, but he didn't.
"And that's it."
"That's it." He took a sip of his beer.
"Did you ever see her again?"
He shrugged. "She never asked my number and never gave me hers. I thought she was attractive, but we only talked a few minutes."
"This must have come as quite a nasty shock, then." Oh, crap, way to make him agree with you.
"A shock, yeah."
"But wait, if you only talked, how did I get conceived? One doesn't make a baby by conversation." I could feel something tightening in my chest.
"Your mother arranged with an employee at the ISO to get some... samples. I think she met me on purpose; she wanted to make sure she had a good picture of who your father would be."
For a moment, I couldn't breathe. I wanted to curl into a ball right there on the railing. I had some nerve confronting this guy, when his only connection to me was a plastic cup and a dirty magazine. I stared at the floor. My mother had bought me, or stolen me. I felt cheap, sleazy. I should have known better. It was possible the truth would be awful--I knew that going in, but I didn't want to believe it. I could feel his eyes on me. I wanted to go back into the house, crawl into bed and disappear. Was he enjoying watching me squirm?
“Why did you tell me that?” I whispered. If he didn’t want me, he could have said so, left it at that. Did he want to rub it in once and for all?
“Because holding back the truth will come back to bite you,” he said.
"Why did you have to leave samples like that anyway?" I snapped.
"I was ordered to as part of a physical exam. When you're young and in a training situation like I was, you get used to taking orders. I didn't know why. I'm looking into it now."
I suspected he already knew why, but didn't want to say just yet. I tried to glare at him. He was just looking at me. Judging me? I don't think so. Just looking.
"Where should we go from here?"
"You're asking me?" He snorted and gave me a strange grin.
"Well... yeah." I tossed my head, feeling a little better, or was it just defiant? "At least you're here. Do you want to stay in touch? And what should I call you? Dad? Papa?"
For the first time, he looked uncomfortable. "Just Joe. The man who raised you is your dad."
"I didn't call you because I ran out of parents. Just so you know."
His turn to squirm.
I was running out of beer. I took a sip and swirled the rest at the bottom of the bottle. "So... does this mean you want to stay in touch? I thought you were really mad at me when we got the tests back, and now I know why." I wasn't going to apologize. I didn't ask to be born.
"I guess it does." He looked at his own bottle, took a drink. "My team likes you. Jinpei talks about you." He scanned my face for a reaction and seemed satisfied with what he saw. "The others have been pushing me to get in touch."
Yeah, well, how do you feel, Joe? I thought.
He still looked lost. I felt better--we were in the same boat. Joe had the same kind of double image I saw in Jinpei. One minute he was scary, ten-feet-tall and dangerous; the next, he was someone I could touch. Was the whole team that way?
"Would you like to stay for dinner?" I tilted my head at him and gave him my most appealing look.
"I couldn't put you out. We could go somewhere."
"Let me grab my coat."
Since I had only the bike, we took his car. If Jinpei had been there, he would have laughed at me for not noticing this car at first--"Whose kid are you really?" No chrome, but polished to make the midnight blue finish seem bottomless. It had a Nissan badge, but no model name. An understated sports sedan until he turned the engine over. He relaxed when he drove, smooth, no movement wasted.
"Do you still race?" I asked him.
"Do you teach?" He shook his head, but I saw a grin.
I didn't have the money to dazzle him with a flashy restaurant, but the food was good and the owners knew my name. We sat in a quiet, candle-lit corner, and I watched Joe push his appetizer around his plate.
"It's good. Really. I'm just not--"
"You feeling okay?"
He didn't glare at me, but it seemed like a light went out somewhere. Did he have a health problem I didn't know about? Jinpei had never mentioned anything. "Fine. I had a big lunch."
"Oh.” Think of something else. “How long are you staying?"
"Til Friday. I have business downtown tomorrow afternoon."
"I'm in class until four. You could come over for dinner tomorrow night, around six? I think Cynthia will even forgive you for tonight." I tried another winning smile.
We spent the rest of dinner making small talk: the weather, NASCAR. We liked the same drivers. I think we spent most of the time checking each other out. I had photos of him, but the actual breathing article gave me much more insight. He still looked too young to be my father, despite the grey in his hair. At forty six, my dad--my adopted dad--had had plenty of tiny wrinkles around his eyes and forehead. Joe had no wrinkles except maybe at the corner of his eyes, but he had a weathered and battered look to him. And something overlaying that. Tired. He looked tired, like the weight of the Earth was dragging him down. Jinpei didn't look like that, and when he took me to meet Ken and Jun that one time, they didn't either. They looked older, but at least they seemed happy. Maybe he was lying about not being sick.
He put the fake leather folder containing the bill and receipt down on the table. I realized he'd paid. "You didn't have to do that."
"It’s your treat tomorrow."
He drove me home with no detours and no need for directions. I felt torn, half wishing for a longer drive, and half glad our evening appeared to be over. He dropped me off at the front and waited until I got through the door before driving off.