“Here you go, Apple,” Jet said, deftly transferring what appeared to be zucchini tempura onto Julia’s plate. “Let me know when you need more, Watermelon.” Jet called Banana any fruit other than Banana which Banana found hilarious—Julia, not so much.
“Let’s get to work!” Banana said through a mouthful of tempura. She pounded her fist against the table, scowling at each of us in turn.
“Banana!” Julia said, aghast at her daughter’s behavior. Julia was more perturbed when the rest of us burst into laughter at the sight of Banana perfectly imitating her mother when Julia got in a snit or a panic. “What?” Julia scowled, causing us to really laugh it up. She and Banana were the spitting image of each other.
“Oh, Julia, if you could see your face,” Anu said, delicately brushing the corner of her eye with her fingertip. “That is so priceless, Banana.”
“Thank you, Auntie,” Banana beamed, taking another bite of her tempura. Now that she’d gotten what she’d wanted, she was the picture of placidness.
“You’re not saying I act like that!” Julia said, pointing a finger at her chest. Her perfectly proportioned face screwed itself up, looking more like Banana when the latter was having a temper tantrum. Julia patted her blunt cut which looked strangely good on her. “I exhibit perfect decorum no matter what the circumstances.”
“Oh please, Yamamoto,” Jet said, rolling his eyes. “You can be so mean when things aren’t going your way.” The rest of us nodded our heads in agreement. “Banana is only imitating what she sees every time we come over.”
“It’s not like the rest of you are angels, either,” Julia protested, her eyes darkening. “If I do scream like that, and I find it highly unlikely, it’s only because the rest of you are such slackers.”
“I’ll get it done by next time, honest,” Banana said, looking hangdog. She dropped her head in mock-shame before peeking up at us, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“Busted, Bobby!” I crowed, clapping my hands in delight. Bobby was always late with his reports, though he managed to meet his outside deadlines on time. I supposed I should be thankful he kept us waiting and not the public, but it was damned frustrating.
“What, were you talking to me?” Banana’s expression became puzzled as she looked from one to the other. “Oh, um, ok.”
“God, Scar, she has you down to a T,” Bobby said, his tone snide. It was clear that he was happy to get back at me for my unseemly enthusiasm at his depiction. I considered giving him the finger, but I let it ride. For the kid, of course.
“Do Uncle Jet, honey,” Julia said, trying to smile. It was clear that Banana had spent lots of time watching us as we met; she even had the mannerisms down. What a observant three-year old. Banana straightened herself up as tall as she could and put a rapturous expression on her face.
“God, he was the most heavy thing I’ve ever seen!” She pressed her hands together and looked up towards the sky.
“Heavy?” Jet said, wrinkling his brow. “I’m quite sure I’ve never said that about anybody. It’s not PC, you know.”
“I think she means heavenly,” Anu said, smiling to beat the band. Jet said that about almost every guy he met, so it was funny to hear it come out of a mini-him. Anu leaned forward. “What about me, honey? Can you do me?” Immediately, Banana hunched over the table and started scribbling furiously with a pretend pen. She frowned at her ‘writing’ as she muttered to herself.
“The numbers don’t match. The numbers don’t match. How come the damn numbers don’t match?” The whole table burst into spontaneous applause, though Anu looked slightly mortified as well.
“I can’t believe I swore in front of her,” Anu said, muffling a laugh. “Sorry, Julia.”
“Don’t worry about it. She’s heard much worse from me,” Julia said, waving a hand as Banana lost interest in the game and went back to trying to pick up another piece of tempura with her mother’s chopsticks. “I can’t believe what a good mimic she is.”
The rest of the afternoon flew by as we planned our next play. It was Tea by Velina Hasu Houston, which was a little-known play about Japanese women who were war brides. It was a grim play, but that was the least of the worries. The main roles were female, and whatever male roles existed were, well to put it frankly, assholes. We had quite a dedicated band of troopers, but a few of the men were going to protest the selection. I wasn’t too worried about it, however, as no one could do anything about it other than not try out. Bobby was going to talk to the Ordway about using one of their smaller theaters, but we had to find backup stages if that didn’t pan out. It most likely wouldn’t, but it didn’t hurt to dream medium.
“Hey, Hsu, stay a minute,” Julia said to me as the gang was packing up to leave. I wasn’t surprised she asked, given how unhappy she’d been the whole afternoon. We said our good-byes to the others, then I turned to Julia. She was about to say something when my cell phone rang.
“One minute,” I said, holding up a hand. I sprinted to the phone, hoping it’d be Matt. It was.
“She got it,” Matt said in a stressed-out voice. “I went over after work, and it was just like you said. Danny’s soiled t-shirt. A tape with Danny screaming on it. Do you know what they did to make him scream like that?” His voice was taut, and I didn’t want to push him over the edge.
“Yeah, but that’s not important,” I said, glossing over his question. “He’s alive and in one piece. That’s the important part.”
“There was a note telling her to give back what she took or suffer the consequences. The cops were over there when I was there. They want to talk to you.” I glanced at my phone and saw that I’d missed five messages. I was sure at least one of them was from the cops.
“They think I know who did this. They think I’m in on it. This package thing might convince Detective Daily that I’m guilty. I hope you have bail money handy,” I said, trying to make light of the situation.
“Don’t joke about it!” Matt snapped, in no mood to be jollied. “When are you coming home?”
“Julia has to talk to me, then I’ll be right there.” I made placatory noises at Matt before hanging up the phone. I hesitated between listening to the rest of my messages and talking to Julia, but the latter won out.
“Sorry about that,” I said, turning back to Julia who had probably overheard my end of the conversation. I was about to say something else when I stopped. Julia was juggling Banana on her hip and looked as if she were about to cry.
“Scar, I need a huge favor,” Julia said, her eyes filling with tears. “Please hear me out before you say anything, ok?” I nodded my head, not sure I could deal with more strife in my life. I felt guilty, however, because Julia was my best friend. She’s seen me through more crises than I cared to remember. We sat on the couch to finish talking.
“What’s up, Julia?” I asked, scrutinizing her face. There were fine lines in the corners of her mouth that I would swear weren’t there last time I saw her.
“It’s…P.W.,” Julia said, cutting her eyes to Banana who was drowsing in her arms.
“P.W.?” I asked, tilting my head to the side. I thought about it a bit harder then said, “Oh, P.W.!” Peter Wakiko, Banana’s father, living his gay life—and I meant that literally—in New York. No, he wasn’t out when he met Julia, but he was already creeping on the downlow at that point. When she told him she was pregnant, that was when he knew he had to come clean. They were still best of friends, though they rarely got to see each other. As far as I knew, Banana barely knew her father. “What about him?”
“He has AIDS,” Julia said softly, the tears slipping down her face. “I didn’t want to tell the others yet because, well, I knew I’d have a total breakdown if I had to tell everyone at once.”
“Oh, Julia,” I said sadly, pulling Julia to me as best I could with a dozing Banana in her arms. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“He’s only twenty-nine, Scar,” Julia cried, her voice muffled by my shoulder. “I was going to send Banana to spend a summer with him in New York when she got a few years older. Now, I won’t be able to.”
“You sure? People with AIDS can live a long time these days,” I said as Julia pulled back. I handed her a tissue from my bag as she had snot running out of her nose. I traded her the tissue for Banana who snuggled against me without hesitation. “What with protease cocktails and whatnot, it’s almost manageable.” We both knew I was talking shit, but Julia appreciated it.
“He got his first lesion,” Julia said softly. She saw the horrified look in my eyes and quickly added, “I tested six months after he told me he was gay and cheating on me, and every six months since then. I’m clean.”
“Thank God,” I said fervently, not knowing what I would do without my best friend in my life.
“So, I’m going to see him this weekend,” Julia said, dabbing at her eyes and nose. “That’s where the big favor comes in. I want you to watch over Banana for me.”
“That’s it? No problem,” I said, waving a hand in the air. “It’ll be a piece of cake.”
“Yeah, right,” Julia said dryly, forcing a small laugh. She looked at her daughter who was snoring softly. “I love this little girl more than anything in the world, but, Lordy, is she hard to take care of.” She placed her hand on Banana’s head, almost as if she were blessing her daughter. “I can’t imagine what the psycho friend of Matt’s is going through,” Julia added. “If Banana got taken from me, well, I don’t know what I’d do.” I didn’t tell her that I had my doubts about how grieved Kayla was as Julia had enough problems—she didn’t need to deal with Matt’s as well. After we chatted a bit more and I determined that she was going to be ok, I got up to leave.
“You call me if you need me, you hear?” I transferred Banana, still sleeping, back to her mother before hugging said mother fiercely. Julia nodded, but wasn’t able to smile as she escorted me out of her house. I made it home in record time.