previous: Run it! ch 19
“What is wrong with you, Saroo!” I shouted. My heart was filled with rage, despite the fact I was staring down at a small child. Saroo was Prayikina’s five-year-old brother. Much like his father and sister, he had dark skin and white-blonde hair the color of cream (and a name that made sense only after substantial research.) Looking at him, I couldn’t help but see Uncle Akira’s regal grace. I had seen pictures of Akira when he first came to Japan and his darling son wore his hair long and shaggy just as little Akira once did. However, Akira as a child was a poor street kid. Saroo kept his long hair because he had the tendency to throw a tantrum. Unlike his noble father and brilliant sister, Saroo was a little brat. I attributed that personality defect to the fact he was a chubby little narcissist raised in the lap of luxury.
Saroo laughed in my face. “I didn’t do anything, cousin Elena. Leo is just being a whiney baby.” His calm demeanor was downright infuriating.
“What did you say?” I grabbed him by his collar, prepared to choke him out, or even piledrive him through a table.
“Let me go you bitch!” Saroo squealed like a pig.
My jaw fell to the floor, and I let go simply out of shock. “How do you even know that word?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” With one quick motion, Saroo swiped at my hip, tearing off a small piece of lace.
“Oh, you did not just tear my dress!” I didn’t even care about my stupid hand-me-down dress, but I would be damned if I was going to let him get away with further assault.
Leo ran up to me, throwing his arms around my waist. “Ellie!” my brother cried. “Saroo took a flower from a table decoration,” his small voice trembled with emotion, “and he held it to his nose, then he put it into his pocket.”
I patted Leo’s head. “Yeah, that sounds like something he would do.” Saroo had an affinity for pretty things (a trait from his mom) and spicy, sweet-smelling things (from his sister and dad.) I could clearly see Leo’s accusation was correct. My little cousin had a comically large white orchid sticking out of his child-sized tailored suit. Since he had clearly broken the stem to be able to fit it in said pocket, I could have simply allowed him to keep it. But that would mean awarding his shitty behavior. So, with my most intimidating glare, I held out my hand. “Give it to me, now.”
“No!” the boy cried. “I want it!” Saroo stomped his feet as tears welled up in his eyes. “If I want it, I should have it!”
“That is not the way the world works,” I said, through gritted teeth as I reached for the flower. Saroo swatted at my hand with such force, I actually found myself recoiling in pain.
“My mommy will let me have it!” he shouted, shrieking like a banshee. “I don’t have to listen to you, Elena! You suck!”
I knew he was correct. Aunt Erica tended to give in to his every whim, but she wasn’t in the dining hall at the moment. That meant this was my show and I was seconds away from yanking out the flower and then forcibly tossing him overboard.
“No, she won’t because that’s stealing!” Leo shouted, standing next to me with his hands on his hips. My brother had a round head with large eyes, like something out of a cartoon. (I liked to call him my little lollypop.) Wearing his light grey suit, he was snarling with an adorable expression of anger, which made him look like the world’s smallest corporate salaryman.
Saroo suddenly stopped crying. In one swift motion, he shoved Leo to the ground, sending him flying a good five feet. “What are you going to do, tell your dead daddy?”
Leo’s lower lip started to quiver as tears filled his eyes.
“That’s right, Leo the loser! Your daddy is dead! And your mommy is ugly and mean!”
It took every ounce of emotional strength to rush to Leo’s side (instead of stabbing Saroo with a fork.) “Leo, sweetheart, are you ok?”
Leo nodded, dusting off his suit jacket. “I’m ok.” He forced a smile but didn’t bother to get up. My brother sat defeated, with his knees pulled to his chest rocking back and forth like a prisoner in solitary confinement. “I’ll be happy for your wedding, I promise.”
The sight broke my heart. And worse; Saroo still had the flower. Part of me wanted to pick up my brother and take him back to the bridal suite where I could at least keep him safe.
Instead of taking the victory and leaving the situation alone, Saroo ran around the side and punched Leo in the head. “That’s what I thought, loser!”
WTF? This was getting out of hand. Knowing how hard this little psychopath could potentially hit, I was now genuinely concerned for my brother’s safety. Thankfully, my mother and Aunt Erica rushed in. Each woman grabbed their child, finally separating the boys. (And allowing me time to take a much-needed breath.)
“Your son is a brute!” my mother shouted as she lifted Leo in her arms. It was clear she had come from the kitchen since her clothing was covered in various powders.
“Mommy!” Saroo cried hugging Aunt Erica’s leg. “All I wanted was a flower and Leo called me a thief!”
I’m not sure where Aunt Erica had been, since she looked immaculate from her perfect hair to her elaborate gown. She lifted her son in her arms, holding him like an innocent baby. “Alicia, you’re pathetic. You only conceived your son because of my birth announcement! I’m surprised you stopped at just one. How many embryos did you have frozen?”
I opened my mouth to speak. I loved Aunt Erica, but how dare she insult my family on my wedding day? Plus, even if my mother had 100 frozen embryos, they would have all produced better children than Saroo. Thankfully none of those words had the opportunity to leave my lips.
“My fertility decisions are none of your business!” My mother shouted. She put down Leo, letting him grip her waist. She was preparing for a fight.
Thankfully Sam Yukihira rushed in. He got between the two shorter women, holding them at arm’s length. Instead of addressing the mothers, he knelt down at Leo’s level, holding out his arms. “Hey, buddy, don’t cry. Your daddy wouldn’t want you to cry.”
“Saroo is a bully- he’s so mean! He always tells me how he has a daddy and his daddy is Principal of the academy, but my daddy is dead and he’s not even buried anywhere, he’s just gone.”
Now I felt like shit. All those years ago, when I released my father’s ashes, I had been acting on my own selfish desires. I wanted him to go home (as opposed to staying with my mother as her property.) If I had only known that in the future, I could have a mom that I was proud of, and a little brother I adored with all my heart.
Sam hugged the little boy. “Did Elena ever show you your daddy’s notebook?”
Leo nodded. “She lets me see it all the time but sometimes it makes me sad, because all of those notes were about Elena. My mommy told me how I was born, how she saved a part of daddy in case she ever wanted another baby. But my daddy never knew me and I’ll never know him. And Saroo says my mommy is so mean and ugly I’ll never have a daddy!”
The room went silent. Even Saroo looked a little guilty.
Sam turned his face looking Leo in the eyes. “You know that’s not true.” I knew he had seen it first hand, having a child in her forties changed my mother. She became a better person, someone worthy of love. “You know I was there the day you were born.”
My mother had scheduled a c-section. Since the baby had no father Sam had flown in to be with my family. He was even in the operating room for support.
I was, of course, not in the operating room (because I had no desire to see my mom getting cut open.) But I remember Sam told me, from the moment he placed the baby in my mother’s arms he could see only love. My mom continued to work for her father’s company, traveling the world with her newborn son. She never moved on from my father, eventually, she even went through with changing her name. Sam, myself, and all of our academy friends knew Leo didn’t need my mother to get remarried. The little boy had plenty of love.
Sam blinked tears from his eyes. “I have something very special I want to give to you. I was going to wait until after the ceremony but I think you need to have this right now.” Before the crowd of friends, family, and waitstaff, he pulled from his pocket a black bandana embroidered with a fiery lion.
My mother’s eyes lit up with emotion, as apparently, she already knew what it was. “Oh, my God! It came out beautiful! What do you say, Leo?”
“Thank you, Uncle Sammy,” he said softly.
Sam lifted the boy’s face. “This bandana was made from a shirt your daddy wore to competitions. Your mommy commissioned me to make it just for you.”
“My very own bandana?” he asked with child-like innocence and wonder. I knew Leo had seen photos and videos, so he knew the surreal lore of the cloth.
“Elena says she hears music when she wears her bandana,” Sam said as he tied the custom piece on Leo’s head. “Let’s see how this looks on you.”
Leo lowered his gaze, looking like a ninja. As he looked up, he blinked once than twice. I couldn’t tell if was the lighting of the room, or something far more powerful, but Leo’s eyes went white as if possessed by a demon.
My mother looked concerned. “Leo, sweetie?”
The boy tilted his head like a horror movie doll. “Oh, Saroo…”
“What do you want?” Saroo turned to face him, immediately regretting his tone.
“Dear cousin, I only want to play.”
Saroo screamed as Leo pounced on him like a lion, clawing at his face with unnatural strength.
Prayikina finally rushed over. “Holy shit, last time I go off to the bathroom in the middle of this freakshow.” In one quick motion, she removed the bandana and tied it around Leo’s wrist. “You certainly have your daddy’s fiery spirit. Just make sure to only wear this when you’re in the kitchen. And never when you’re both angry and or holding sharp objects.”
Leo’s eyes welled up with tears. “I’m sorry. “
I could practically see Prayikina’s heart melt. She pressed her lips to his ear, speaking just loudly enough for the people closest to hear. “Why don’t you join us in front? We’re going to sing a special song for Elena.”
“B-but I-I don’t know how to sing,” he said with a nervous sadness. “I don’t want to ruin Ellie’s special song.”
“Everyone can sing,” Prayikina said with her usual confidence.
“Not like you, Prayikina, when you sing you sound like an angel,” Leo replied. The room went silent with coos and awes of admiration.
Prayikina squished the boy’s soft cheeks. “You are so sweet I could just eat you up!” She picked up Leo, carrying him out the door of the dining hall, heading to the front of the ship where the ceremony was to be held.
“I want to sing!” Saroo shouted. “Mommy, tell Prayikina she has to let me sing!”
“Kiki, please?” Aunt Erica asked. By her tone of voice, she was asking as an authority figure.
Prayikina shook her head. “No, absolutely not. When he was little, I tolerated his behavior because I assumed, he would grow out of it. But now it’s getting annoying. This is Elena’s wedding. You keep that little brat away from me.”
Leo made sure to stick his tongue out.
“Hey,” Prayikina turned his face to look her in the eyes. “Don’t be naughty.”
Leo pouted his lip. “I’m not naughty Saroo is naughty.”
“I know,” Prayikina kissed his cheek. “You’re just my little lollypop, with your round little head on your skinny little body.”
I went up to Prayikina, fully squishing my darling brother in a sandwich of love. “Kiki, are you trying to steal my lollipop?”
“My mommy says I’m too skinny,” Leo said with a pout.
I kissed his cheek. “Our daddy was skinny too, but you know what our daddy used to do? He used to work out a lot.”
“Yeah,” Prayikina added. “Do you know how to do a push-up?”
Leo shook his head.
“I’ll teach you, at the reception. Maybe I’ll challenge Giovanna and Elena to a contest, to see who can do the most push-ups while wearing our gowns.”
Prayikina squished her face to his to share the wireless mic. “We don’t have enough mics so you’ll just have to share mine.” She looked out into the crowd locking eyes with someone.
“Who are you looking at?” Leo asked.
“No one.” She couldn’t help but smile. “I hope my little boy is as precious as you.”
What did that mean? Was she pregnant? There was a little, tiny, secret that I knew. It was a little white lie that I promised to keep to myself. Obviously, I told Jamie and someday I would tell Aunt Erica and Uncle Akira, but now was not the time.
Prayikina paused for a moment, shifting Leo’s weight in her arms. “Elena?”
“Do you think Saroo is the way he is because of me?”
“No, of course not.” Her concern was odd. “Growing up, I was an only child and so were you. We both turned out perfectly normal.” I knew my mother would disagree, but I could not, for the life of me, remember a time when I acted out as badly as Saroo.
“Well, you had me and later all of our school friends.” Kiki glanced at Leo, stroking his cheek. “And your dad.”
“What about my dad?”
“He was the reason we were even allowed to meet when we did. I can’t help but think, if he was still alive, perhaps our brothers would have been friends too.”
Leo turned his head, answering with a pout. “No, Saroo is not my friend!”
Prayikina and I both laughed. She kissed his cheek until he smiled. “I know, my darling little lollipop.”
“Hopefully once your brother starts the pre-high school program, he’ll meet people who’ll whip him into shape.” That was, of course, wishful thinking. For me and the vast majority of the students, the program served as a boarding school, allowing young students to gain a sense of independence and responsibility. This would not be the case for Saroo since he already lived on campus. More likely than not he would be running to his parents for help at every opportunity.
My cousin sighed; it was clear Prayikina had the same thought as I did. “One can only hope.”
“Bye-bye Leo I’ll see you soon.”
Leo was too entranced by the mic set up, so Prayikina had to nudge his arm. “Leo, say bye-bye to Elena.”
My brother looked up, his large eyes turning in my direction. “Bye-bye Ellie.” His happiness was truly inspiring. I couldn’t wait for the day he went to the academy. I already knew Leo would become the type of person my father would have been proud of.
I stood, entranced as they walked off together. My mind was lost in the beauty of the moment when Gi grabbed my arm. “Ow, way to be rude, Gigi.”
“Was it worth it?” she asked, clearly annoyed that we were not lounging around with chilled champagne.
“To rescue my brother, yes. I’d say so,” I said with a chuckle. “Don’t worry, as an only child I’ll give you a pass.”
“You left to play a superhero, at the cost of your hair and makeup,” she said in a manner similar to a disappointed preschool teacher.
I rolled my eyes. “My makeup is fine; we were going for ’80’s punk-glam with metallic galaxy colors. That’s pretty much immune to being ruined.”
She looked down at my dress, instantly noticing the small chunk of lace that Saroo had torn. “Oh my God, that little brat!”
The sight of the loose string was almost comical. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Yes, it is.” Gi lifted her hand, telling herself to stop. There was nothing more she could say. “Can you at least let me check your dress and touch up your hair?” It was clear, Gi just needed me back in the bridal suite.
I groaned. In truth, all I wanted was to get the ceremony started. I had not seen Jamie all day and I truly missed him. I knew that was not ‘traditional’ and at the moment he was in the groom’s suite with his friends, talking through his nerves over a cold beer and maybe some chips. Still, I was lonely for him; his jokes, his music, his spirit.
Gi poked me back to reality. “At least come back to the bridal suite to retrieve your shoes. If not, you’re going to slip and fall down the aisle like a drunk sea lion.”
“Fine,” I replied, looking down at my dirt-covered feet. I wasn’t even wearing my nylons. “Not like I have much of a choice.” This was my wedding but the day was about more than just myself. Everyone had worked so hard to make my dreams come true, the least I could do was wear the $900 heels that had lived on a shelf in my office for the last six months.