Percy pulled his bandana down to take a drag from his canteen. Anywhere he touched himself he would feel the grit and scrap of the sand. He was on an abandoned beach, listening to the roar and crash of the waves. California was terribly dry this time of the year. He pulled back up his covering and trudged to the safety of the roads. He hopped on Yip, patted him gently, and they rode back to the city.
Percy had gotten used to Momentus, becoming something of a local celebrity. The city was rich with every brand of person, a cowboy was the oddest, though welcomed nonetheless. It was a juxtaposition of sorts: a cowboy was seen as often, but he was not seen as odd. He was well-known as a handsome fellow who helped just about anyone who asked. He always tipped his hat to any passerby and spoke softly. Percy found out he liked sushi and got it from the corner store. He let the local kids pet and brush Yip, and they crowded around the stoops of the tailor shop. He listened to the neighbors sing opera and dance to love ballads. He burst into a smile when he heard the music was loud. He tied up Yip, heading upstairs.
Aoyama was barely recovering in the grief that consumed him. He began to drink more and more, sleeping on the floor, barely managing conversation. Sometimes they found him in the bath, laying his head back, and feeling the warmth enclosing him. Yua watched her brother when he slept, and their mother, Tamako began to hide the alcohol.
When Percy found Aoyama in the kitchen something in him stirred. Percy wanted to be patient, wanted to let his friend mourn and feel the feelings he needed. The clink of the sake bottle struck Percy’s mind. Aoyama brushed back his long hair, catching the sound of Percy standing directly behind. Percy grabbed the glass, the bottle, then tossed it out of the kitchen window. Aoyama was so baffled by his sudden harshness he could not speak. Percy took several deep breaths, feeling his chest tighten, “Aoyama,” He managed. “We’ve been here a month. I’m writing to Lucy almost every day-”
“You have atoned, haven’t you?” He murmured. “Go home-”
“Oh no, no, no,” Percy said a little sharper. “I atoned but you took me in and introduced me to your family now you’re stuck with me!” He rubbed his face, feeling the prickle of his unshaven face.
“You do not understand.”
“No, I couldn’t! And I’m sorry I can’t, you’ve lost somebody and I’m sorry!” Percy resisted shouting. Taking an even deeper breath. “You said it was a mistake but I don’t think it was. And if he committed a crime, it doesn’t matter who it was, he deserved punishment! Maybe...not dying but….I don’t know much about the Samurais or Bushido or anything like that. But,” He released some of the tension. “I know what’s right and wrong and I know murder isn’t right!” Percy ran his fingers through his hair, trying to adjust himself. “I shouldn’t have thrown that out, Tamako’s gonna be mad at me.”
“She will forgive you.”
Yua smiled up at the cowboy, holding his arm as they walked together. The high street was stocked with people, music blaring into the air, smells of the vendors almost choking you when you walked. Almost everyone was in kimonos, and ladies carried paper umbrellas. Yua rested hers on her shoulder. She asked him if he wanted to wear one, but Percy shook his head. “I’d look a fool,” She disagreed but convinced him into just jeans and his button shirt. No spangles, spurs, or spectacle.
“I feel a little naked…” Percy murmured when Yua stopped them at a vendor.
“It’s a festival! You don’t need your uniform!”
“I like wearing it,” He pouted.
She extended a stick of Dango to silence him. “You should live a little cowboy.” She took her own and pulled them back to the fray.
“I want to live to serve,”
“What do you do when you’re not a cowboy?”
“I dunno.” Percy presented the clean stick, making Yua snort. “I reckon I’d want to be somewhere where I can sit and just relax. Maybe raise chickens.”
“Would you be married?”
“Well...if a man would have me.” Percy shrugged.
“You know,” Yua began, a sly smile on her face. “Aoyama loves chickens-”
“He does! He didn’t want dogs-”
“Yua, I like you plenty but don’t keep thinking those thoughts.” He took a deep breath seeing her playful eyes. “I want yaki imo where’s that nice fella who makes ‘em?”
Aoyama gazed outside the living room window, hearing laughter and music dance in the air. Children running through the streets, chasing the others with sparklers. Couples were holding hands. Aoyama caught the scent of takoyaki and oden, blending with spun sugar and crepes. Memories of the peace he felt in childhood, running with Yua in the street, free from the fear he had in his home. When their mother left to the fleeting freedom by the street food, how bright she looked wearing a kimono. Aoyama looked at the empty dark house, took a deep breath, and slowly went to replace his messy clothes. Ito had always loved Taiyaki, and often bought whole carts of them to give to the passersby. The sting hit his chest, and his fear ran all over. ‘Go, go, go!’ He told himself. ‘Be better than him...he did wrong but you can be better!’ Aoyama redressed, gathered his hair up, and left for the world. He ran to the Taiyaki cart closest and presented enough money for a week’s worth of product. “Give it to whoever wants it.” He ran away to another. After six more carts, he heard shouts of shock and fear in the street. Aoyama watched fleeing from the scene, so he ran headfirst into it.
Percy opened his eyes: his head felt smashed into itself, his vision blurred, the smell of the grim of the alley flooded his every sense. “Y...Yua?” He tried to look around, scanning for his friend. He blinked, trying to return to reality. Yua returned to his sight, kneeling over him, and gently touched his face. She spoke softly, sounding like thunder in his ears.
“Percy! Percy, the police are coming!” She held his hands, looking terrified. Her hands were covered by something sticky and red. Percy blinked looking at his own hands, seeing the same was there.
“What...hap-” He turned his head and saw a man dead next to him. “Wh...wha?” His brain collapsed on itself again.
Aoyama found his sister chasing a pair of paramedics slipping the cowboy inside. “Yua!” He met her and saw the blood on her hands. “Are you alright? What happened?”
She burst into tears, “Aoyama! I walked away for just a moment…” He wiped her face. “I don’t know, I don’t know...what happened! I heard the shot, and-” Aoyama looked even worse. The other paramedics were guiding a covered man into the other vehicle.
Percy jolted himself awake, eyes scanning around an empty clean room. It smelled like disinfectant and clean sheets. “Ow,” He sat up. “Ow,” He touched his side. “Owww.” The doctor peeked through the door, entering when she saw him, “Good afternoon, please lay back.”
“Ma’am?” The doctor examined him, smiling nicely. “Where am I?”
“Hospital,” She replied. “You arrived last night. Do you remember what happened?”
“Did I get shot?”
“Yes. But you will make a full recovery.” She answered. “Luckily the bullet did not breach anything important. Would you like to see it?”
“Can I uh….see my friends please?”
She left to the waiting room, and sent for the Hisatomos. Yua nearly tackled him, throwing her arms around his neck. “Oh Percy! I’m so sorry!”
Aoyama gently pulled her away, “Yua, don’t smother them!” Tamako bent next to him. Percy felt her soft touch at his hair. “We were so worried, Yua was hysterical.”
“You weren’t there!” She pouted, buried into the cowboy’s shoulder. Aoyama sighed, looking at Percy who seemed relieved to see him. Aoyama’s eyes averted, a small smile lingering on his face.
There was a knock interrupting the moment, sweeping in the town police. Officer Suzu and Tora entered the little scene. “Mr. Bullet Tooth?” asked Suzu.
“It’s Sullivan,” He corrected. “How can I help you gents?”
“We’d like to discuss what happened,” Officer Tora cleared his throat. “Ladies, if you will excuse us I would like to tell Mr. Sullivan a dirty joke.”
Yua raised an eyebrow, glanced at her mother who had the same look, then recited a naughty pun in Japanese. Aoyama covered his mouth to hide the laughter. Percy, despite not knowing a word she said, offered a massive grin. The Officers politely insisted they step out. Tamako agreed reluctantly, taking her daughter with her. Aoyama placed himself a little closer to Percy, protectively.
They began from the start. Percy described the smell of the street. “We were looking for yaki imo,” Percy offered. “Didn’t get it either. Yua saw somebody she recognized and went over only a few feet. I stayed where I was, we were by the alleyway. I thought I saw a cat scampering by, so I went to see. I bent down for a second, but it went away. I stood back up and heard a shot, but I didn’t see...didn’t see who it was. I felt a burning sensation at my back. Hurt like hell. Reckon I blacked out because I fell out. I woke up and saw somebody nearby. There was another man….did he die?”
Suzu cleared his throat, “Yes. His name was Bryan Hung. He was also shot in a crossfire, and died from blood entering his lung.”
Percy’s eyes widened, a clear sad line on his mouth. “Nobody deserves that, that’s….did he have a family?”
Percy looked even sadder. “Is there any way I can tell ‘em, er, pass my condolences on to them?” Aoyama looked at him with only warmth, squeezing his hand.
“We’ll get to that,” offered Suzu. “we want to find the man who shot you first.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Percy replied. “I want that too.”
They asked him more questions, prodding him. Aoyama did not leave his side, glancing at the cops a little sharper. Once the doctor returned and yelled at them to leave the patient alone, the cops left. Percy felt his head swim, laying back, looking up at his friend, “Tell me something?”
“Did you leave the house before I got shot?”
“Yes. I went to buy Taiyaki.”
“Hm,” Percy gave him a dizzy smile. “Good. I’m proud of you.” He closed his eyes, trying to relax.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Hmpf, what’s that stuff Yua likes? Umeshu?”
“It would be unwise to give you alcohol.”
“Well...I need something with sugar though.”
Aoyama left for a moment returning with a bottle of a red soda in a glass bottle. “Ramune.” Aoyama explained. “It used to be much more available a century or so ago, now it’s localized in the West.” He showed him how to push the marble down, which sent a spray of bubbles up the bottle. “It’s wonderful.”
Percy shrugged, “Alright, bottoms up, Itadakimasu!” He tipped his head back along with the liquid, feeling all of the bubbles hit his throat. He took a breath in by mistake, sending it up his nose. He burst into a fit of coughing, turning his head away, handing Aoyama the bottle while he swallowed. He burst into laughter from his own embarrassment.
Aoyama laughed, feeling his heart beat wildly in his chest. Even in a silly moment such as this, he felt completely content with everything in the world. “What did you expect to happen?” He asked them, seeing Percy’s hand was red from his mouth. He laughed again, trying to breathe from his own beating heart. It wasn’t anxious, not angry, he felt alive.
“It went up my damn nose!” He exclaimed, regaining some relief. He laughed even harder, calming down. “It tastes pretty good but it hurts!”
Yua poked her head in, Tamako looked over, both thinking the same thing.
Percy was allowed to leave the hospital, holding Tamako’s arm as she led him home. “Detective Suzu says it will be hard to find your shooter.” She spoke in barely a whisper, laying on his shoulder. “I apologize for what happened to you.”
“You didn’t shoot me Tamako.” Percy replied, feeling a wave of shakiness all over. They stopped at the street corner to wait for the lights to change.
“Can I ask you something?”
“If ever you would have to...do you think Aoyama would fight for you?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Come now,” She looked up at him, deep black eyes looking with only kindness. A mother’s eyes, reminding him of Lucy. “you are not oblivious. He thinks the world of you.”
“Don’t know why.” He offered with a smile.
“I know why.” They crossed the street. “Will you promise me something? If you follow him, wherever he decides to go, will you take care of him?”
“Only if he lets me.”
The family eat peacefully, listening to the radio play scattered music, never really landing on one song. Percy was doted upon by Yua and Aoyama, not letting do almost anything alone. Tamako told them both to calm down. In the middle of their peace a knock at the front door awoke them. “Who could that be?” Yua said as she went to the door. A beautiful woman holding a raincoat in her hands stood patiently at the door. “Hello?”
“My name is Sook Hung, may I please come in?”
Yua let her in, leading her straight to the table. Tamako offered her food or tea, politely offering her a seat. Percy offered a howdy, feeling a little embarrassed. What could he say to her that would be suitable? “Misses Hung-”
She rose one hand, making him pause. “Please, do not apologize. I came to thank you for the flowers you sent. Lotus was Bryan’s favorite.”
“I am glad you got ‘em. I couldn’t imagine how awful this is for you.”
“You’re kind. Bryan....” She smiled, hiding her tears. “Was a very good man. From what we have heard about you, you were just as wonderful.”
Tamako returned with a small cup of tea, giving it to Sook who smiled up at her. They spoke a little longer, Sook drank her tea. Percy politely offered to walk her downstairs to her car. “Well thank you, but I walked here.”
“A lady shouldn’t walk alone, please let me.” She politely agreed.
Aoyama piped up to join them, “It would be unwise for you to walk but you’re insistent.”
“It would be nice to walk with you as well Aoyama.” Sook replied.
The three-some left together, Aoyama scolded Percy for not putting on a coat, removing his kimono to place on him. Sook giggled, watching them tussle. “Bryan used to do such things. When we had first dated.”
“Glad you see something in it-” Percy caught the sight of a bandit, dressed like an old enemy. He immediately dove for the woman, covering her in a hug and ducked them down. Aoyama joined them, after the first shot rang. Five more shots disappeared in the air, before the bandit ran. People looked out from their homes, seeing the scene for themselves. “Aoyama, stay with Mrs. Hung!” Percy declared..
“Absolutely not!” Aoyama grabbed the gun from Percy’s hip, and ran down the street.
“Aoyama!” Percy shouted after him. He looked at the woman, seeing her shaken from horror. “You alright Miss Sook?”
“Thanks to you,” She answered, hands trembling. Neighbors ran over, ensuring the two were safe.
“Please watch over her,” Percy said to the neighbors who wrapped a cover all over her shoulders. “I will be right back, I gotta get him back here!” He scrambled to his feet and booked it down the street. His back started to hurt but he refused to let it stop him. Aoyama and four other men tackled him to the ground, protecting each other again. “Aoyama!” Percy saw him, still holding the gun. “Oh Christ,” He met him, pressing his forehead against his. “You took my gun.”
Aoyama felt his hand in his hair and couldn’t breathe.
The bandit was submitted to the local police and cracked as easily as thin ice. He was a patsy, but he never declared the name of his gang leaders. He was not the shooter, and the shooter was already long gone. Aoyama went before his samurai masters and Sook Hung, telling them a bandit had attempted upon his friend’s life, and he would like to bring him to justice. He was given permission. Aoyama asked Percy to join him. No one objected to the arrangement.
Percy let the kids play with Yip, spending time in the kindness of Momentous. He wore his cowboy uniform, feeling like himself.
Aoyama was feeling better, day by day. Not entirely, but healing from his sadness. In the morning his mother ran her fingers into his black hair and began to braid it. “I will be returning home as well,” She said as she reached the tail of his braid. “I have missed my wife terribly.”
“Do I make you proud?” He asked her.
“You and Yua are my pride and joy.” She replied with only love. “Let no doubt linger in your mind.”
“I am glad.”
“Now will you please marry the cowboy so I can see you in peace! I want to have grandchildren.”
“Mother!” He cried, face turning bright red from shock.
They climbed into their horses, and left on the tenth day, together again.