Ready. I was beyond ready and still fussing with my makeup. My nose inches from the mirror, I tweezed another eyebrow and backed up. Not much more to do here, but it beat pacing in the living room.
The message was still on my answering machine, and I didn't want to erase it. Jinpei Nakayama, CEO of Worldtrans and a member of my blood father's team, was in town and asking me to dinner. I mean, I didn't expect him to forget me after I crashed his reunion party in Utoland to meet my real father, but what did he want? Was he planning warn me off doing what I did? Did he want to pick my brain and my history? Or maybe, just maybe, he thought I was attractive.
Oh come on, Christina. The guy's at least fifteen years older than you. With his money, he has his pick of dozens of trophy wives. But still....
"Christina!" Cynthia--my roommate--yelled from the front room. "Your date's here!"
Well, showtime. I dashed into my room and pulled my jacket from the bed. I didn't know where we would be going--posh restaurant or the corner Taco Bell. You never can tell with rich guys. I'd heard of guys worth millions driving beat-up cars and taking their dates to cheap burger places. Whether they were slumming, challenging their girlfriends or just cheap, I have no idea. I would definitely be overdressed for Taco Bell, but I thought I'd fit just about anywhere else.
I figured he'd be in a limo, waiting in the backseat for me to get in, but when I yanked open the front door and rushed through it, I nearly collided with him on the front porch. He backed up a step and gave me an embarrassed smile, though I should have been the one to be embarrassed. "Hi," he said.
"Hi." Awkward pause while he looked down at me. He stood at least a head taller than me. Should I shake his hand? I looked from him to Cynthia, who was goggling at him through the open door. "Would you like to come in?"
I think he noticed my hesitation. The place was hardly presentable, with books and clutter all over the main room. "Well, I have reservations for seven thirty." He glanced at his watch. "If traffic's at all busy, we'd better leave now."
"Have a good time." My roommate waved at us.
"Bye." When the door closed, I realized I'd forgotten to introduce them.
A small, silver two-seat Miata sat at the curb. No limo, no driver. Not ostentatious at all--I liked that. He opened the door for me and closed it after I got in. He drove the car quickly and smoothly, not like he had anything to prove. Of course he didn't.
The restaurant was on the top floor of one of the skyscrapers downtown. You had to look very hard to find the sign, a tiny brass plaque just outside the entrance on the thirty second floor. The waiter led us to a private table beside a huge window that offered a sweeping view of the airport and the pier. The menu didn't list prices. My date ordered a bottle of wine with some fancy Italian name, and the sommelier arrived to do the whole cork-sniffing wine-pouring and nodding ceremony. I hadn't done this since my stepfather had taken my mother and me on alumni dinners, but I was glad I'd seen it before. The wine was excellent.
During the wine presentation, I watched Mr. Nakayama--Jinpei--closely. It wasn't just the money, the expensive haircut and clothes--as a matter of fact, sometimes when I looked at him, the slick, manicured surface clashed with what I saw beneath. With expressive brown eyes and a sweet smile, he was kind of like an elf--ageless--appearing young and innocent one minute and older and wicked-savvy-smart the next. One minute he'd be conquering major corporations, the next, he'd be wrestling with kids and dogs in your back yard. I bet people tried to take advantage of him and were in for a big surprise. I mean, somebody who starts his own business straight out of college and starts raking in the money the second year has to have a ruthless side. That thought made me sit up straight. He'd been very nice so far, but that could change in a heartbeat.
"So you're probably wondering why I called you," he said.
"You happened to be in town, and it's about my father, right?" I tried to make it sound playful.
He gave me a boyish grin. "About you too. You walked into the bar, introduced yourself as Joe's daughter, and then you were gone. I want to hear your story."
Father, Papa, Dad, Joe. The names felt weird in my mouth. "He hasn't said anything about me, has he?"
"Not to me. But then, I had to leave." He frowned a little. "You haven't heard from Joe since?"
"No." He hadn't been happy when the tests came out positive. We'd sat in a room at the Institute, where the doctors had left us alone, and tried to think of something to say to each other. He'd finally said he was at a loss for words, we'd exchanged addresses, and I'd called a taxi.
"I don't think it turned out well. He wasn't happy to see me." I looked at my wine, trying to force down the lump in my throat. I had already cried about it that night in my hotel room.
"What made you decide to track him down? You still have family on your mother's side, and both your parents left you a nice inheritance."
Now that takes nerve. My head jerked up and I almost slammed my glass down. "You thought I was gold digging, so you got your people to check on me?"
"I did it myself." He sipped his wine and watched me over the glass. Now I saw the steel in him.
"Look--my mother never told me this, and all my life, I'd never thought there was anything different about my family. So imagine my surprise when my aunt comes to visit and tells me that my father isn't who I thought he was. She couldn't keep it in her conscience any longer." I lowered my voice to a near-whisper, but I knew I was talking faster and faster. "The more I thought about it, the more it bugged me that I didn't know where I had come from or why I'd had a different father growing up. So I started researching Condor Joe about a year ago, and then I decided to tell him. I thought if I were him, I'd sure like to know I had surviving family around. I thought that maybe he'd have some insight onto why Mom had me without wanting me to know. He didn't."
He looked at me for a long moment, then let out a big sigh. "Now I get it," he said, shaking his head. "Give him a little time. I don't think he's mad at you."
"Then I shouldn't be mad at him, right?"
He smiled and shook his head, but it was a sad smile. "No."
We looked out the window for a moment, out at the airport.
"Would you like to meet him again?" he asked.
"If he wants to see me again. He's not always like that, is he?"
"Like... like a statue. Never talks. Scary like that."
"Not always, no. He has his moments. But tell me more about you."
I raised an eyebrow. "You mean, you haven't researched it all?"
"I'd rather hear some things straight from the source."
Our food arrived. The steak I ordered practically melted under the knife. "This is excellent."
"I usually come here when I'm in town."
"Often?" Oh why did I ask that?
"Once or twice a month, to the subsidiary office." He was looking at me and I couldn't read his expression. I'm beginning to like him, I thought. I shouldn't do this--he's at least fifteen years older than me! He's got women at his beck and call! Does he like me a little, maybe? Or is he just curious?
I kept eating, listening to the clinking of dishes, the live piano music in the background, the low hum of conversation from the other diners.
"You were saying?" His voice startled me.
"Like what?" I asked. "School? Majoring in marketing with a side interest in history." I gave him a sly grin. "Hobbies? Not much time for those with school. I'd like to travel, visit foreign countries. I went to Hontwahl and some places in Iropa with my folks. I have a motorcycle. I'm glad my stepdad never knew. He hated them. It's a Ducati. He... Joe has a racing bike too."
"He has a garage full of interesting stuff. Used to race, but now he just tinkers with them. Your mom never left anything behind, did she? Love letters? Journals?"
I doubt there'd be love letters. Joe had said he'd only met her once, and I didn't want to share that. "Not a thing. She might have gotten rid of it all once she got married."
I wanted to change the subject, to ask Jinpei about Jinpei. But what do you ask someone like this?
"I'm trying to think of something to ask you that wasn't featured in People magazine," I said.
He laughed, then filled my glass. "The price of fame."
"Does your team still get together a lot?"
"Not often. Maybe two or three times a year. I wish it was more."
"You're really family with your old team?"
"As close to family as I've got."
He didn't offer any more, but he didn't ask any more either. We spent the rest of dinner and dessert in small talk. By the time we walked to the car, I realized I'd had most of the wine at dinner. He offered me an arm and held the door open for me again, like a gentleman. He didn't drive me straight home, but instead took the road along the coast before driving back into town. I leaned back against the headrest, letting the wind pull at my hair, and I watched him. The lights whirled behind him and played over his young-old face. I wanted to kiss his cheek, but I was sure it was the wine, even though my head was starting to clear.
He walked me to the door, and I stood to face him on the porch. "Would you like to come in?"
"No, I have some work to finish tonight. I enjoyed this."
"I did too. Best interrogation I've ever survived." That made him smile. "Thank you for dinner."
"Can I see you again?"
For a split second, my mouth dropped open. I closed it. "Sure."
"I've got your number."
"You've got my number."
From the inside of his coat, he pulled out a metal case and took out a card. "And now you have mine. I'm sure there are stories you want to hear, right?"
"Y-yeah. Yes, I do."
"Good night, Christina." He put a hand on my shoulder, and then he was gone. Next I saw him waiting by his car for me to go inside.
Slowly, I unlocked the front door and opened it. Cynthia was waiting just inside, hovering. No doubt she'd been watching through the window. By the time I turned back toward the street, his car was gone.