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Baishakunin, Inc.

Chapter Nine—Up in Space

>> Chapter eight

I don’t know why I set up my ex-boyfriend with the absolutely best catch in my fledgling dating service. As my best friend Ginny Lee always reminds me, I despise Rick; I have the deleted digital images in my trash folder to prove it (I know, they should be completely off of my computer after seven years). Meanwhile, Michele Sakanashi is gorgeous, has a high-paying job, and even her own duplex. She’s a kind of girl that women would, at first glance, love to hate but after five minutes with her, they’d be out buying her mimosas and be off shoe shopping with her.

Ginny is still mad at me that I didn’t save Michele for her friend and my office landlord, Jake Martinez.

“She would have been so good for Jake. Finally a girl that’s not fake—not a two-faced liar.”

I’m surprised by Ginny’s reaction. She’s your typical elementary school teacher who enunciates clearly and loudly and always seems to find the “good” in people. But when it comes to deceiving lovers of her friends, Ginny, who’s getting married in two months, morphs into another person entirely.

“For her to be with Rick—what a waste.” She pops the last bit of her Noah’s bagel in her mouth and balls up her napkin.

“They seem to be getting along.” In a short three weeks, in fact, they are discussing moving in together. I don’t know this firsthand, of course, because Rick doesn’t even know that I’m behind the matchmaking company. The face of Baishakunin, Inc. is a pleasant Japanese woman in her sixties, Oizumi-san, who has relayed every bit of their relationship to me in delicious detail. “In fact, you’re always telling me that proof you’re truly over someone is when you hope for true happiness for them.”

Ginny’s right eyebrow curves up in doubt. “You know, Rick will eventually find out that you own Baishakunin. And your staff so far has been in the dark about your previous relationship with a client. Isn’t that conflict of interest of something?”

“Listen, there’s no code of ethics in matchmaking,” I say. At least I’ve never heard of one. Do they even have matchmaking professional trade organizations?

“Sometimes I worry about you, Bean. I really do.”

I grin and then meet Ginny’s eyes. She’s not joking, but I just chalk it up to pre-wedding jitters.

***

“Do you know what today is?” How is it that I feel Jake even before he begins speaking? I’m waiting for the rickety elevator in the lobby when he comes up behind me.

Jake must have a meeting today. He’s tamed his cowlick and he’s wearing a black button-down shirt with dark blue jeans.

“What, be nice to your tenant day?”

Jakes cracks a smile. “It’s the last week. The last week before you’re supposed to find a perfect match for me.”

I look up at the elevator lights. The elevator is making its way to the ground floor. “I never said perfect,” I say. “That part is up to you.” I then recite the names of all the women we’ve matched him up with. Allison. Rachel. Carmen.

“Yeah, really nice girls. Just not my type.”

“So nice girls aren’t your type?”

The elevator bell dings and doors open. “Do you have some time after work to discuss my options?”

I shrug my shoulders. I have no problem with talking about options.

***

“I never thought that you’d belong to a place like this.” We are sitting in a very Japanesey coffee house on Second Street across the street from a Japanese bank. Japanesey in that you have to be a member to sit down and drink a cup of coffee and have a sliver of delicately decorated cheesecake. A whiteboard with all the specials—spaghetti with tarako, curry tonkatsu, hamburger steak—is written in both Japanese and English. It also has multicolored flowers and stems drawn in the margins. “Why be a member of a restaurant? Doesn’t make sense.”

“You don’t get all the riff-raff,” Jake says.

“Riff-raff like someone like me, huh?”

“I’m just kidding. My Japanese clients seem comfortable here.”

Jake surprises me. On one hand, he seems so late back and casual, but underneath that façade is some degree of business savvy.

“So you wanted to talk about your options?”

“Huh?”

For the past hour, Jake was just listening to my woes about my family and getting laid off at work. I admit it—it was nice to have an audience for my troubles, but there was a part of me that didn’t want our evening to be all about me. “You know, Ms. Right?”

“Oh, yeah. You want to take a walk?”

Jake put his bill on his membership tab and we made our way down Second Street in Little Tokyo. It was still early so the frozen yogurt shops were pretty empty, while weary-looking men in suits and women in high heels walked to their cars in parking lots after their City Hall jobs.

When we get to the corner, we have to wait for the traffic light to turn green - right in front of American Apparel.

“I hate that place.” Jake scowled. “I mean, not their philosophy or even their clothes, or anything like that.”

I’m silent, but I have an idea what’s behind his anger.

“I ran into my girlfriend with another guy in there. Stupid, huh?” For the first time, I see a darkness in Jake’s face. It doesn’t last long, but long enough for me to feel it, to know it.

“I can relate,” I say.

“Someone cheated on you, too?”

“Not cheated with another person, but cheated me by fading away. By not telling me how he felt. He disappeared instead of facing me. It’s a different kind of hurt. Maybe even worse because you don’t even know what happened.” Cars pass us by heading north and south.

“I’m sorry that you had to go through that.”

My whole body tingled. Is it possible for someone to help heal a person with simple words?

The light turns green and we cross. Fortunately we don’t spend that much time on exes and instead talk about growing up in L.A., eatery arguments—El Tepeyac vs. Al and Bea’s, and what we hope for our respective lives.

I’m surprised to hear that Jake wants to create a center for entrepreneurs to network and share resources. “I’d like to even get some high school and college interns, so they’ll get their feet wet in starting their own businesses,” he says.

“Wow, you’ve put a lot of thought into your plans,” I say. I feel embarrassed. I mean, I’m not really contributing much to society by just getting couples together.

“Are you kidding me?” Jake says. “You’re promoting love. There’s nothing more powerful.”

But my face feels hot and I turn away.

“I ran into Ginny’s ex in the elevator the other day,” Jake continues and then my heart pulses even more rapidly. I had forgotten how I had lied to him and my staff about Rick. “He was just raving about Baishakunin—saying that his new relationship had changed his life. At first I just felt mad at him for treating Ginny so badly. But then I thought, well, Ginny’s getting married. And you’re Ginny’s best friend and you’ve forgiven him, so why should I have any hard feelings?”

I start walking faster and before I know it, Jake’s a foot behind me. “Hey, hold up,” he says. “What’s the hurry?”

I stand in front of a memorial to Col. Ellison Onizuka, one of the astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger. I was in science class in high school when we were all watching the launch. Most of us were bored and bleary-eyed and then the Challenger disappeared in the air into three streams of smoke. We all sat up in our seats and exchanged looks. Did what we think happen just happen in front of our eyes?

“You know, forget about matching me,” Jake says.

“What about our deal? A year’s lease free if I find a good woman for you. You don’t have much confidence in my abilities,” I say.

“Quite the opposite,” he says. “Quite, quite the opposite.”

And before I know it—before I can stop it or encourage it or anything else—he’s holding my face in his hands and giving me the sweetest kiss that I’ve ever had, or at least had in a very, very long time.

Chapter ten >>

* "Baishakunin, Inc." is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2009 Naomi Hirahara / Image: Neal Yamamoto and Vicky K. Murakami-Tsuda

baishakunin Baishakunin, Inc. fiction little tokyo naomi hirahara romance serialized story

Sobre esta serie

"Baishakunin, Inc." is a new work of fiction from Naomi Hirahara the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series and two biographies published by the Japanese American National Museum. Its main character, Caroline Mameda, starts her own match-making business after being fired from her job. Set in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

Read Chapter One