Chapter 1:

How It Began

I Fell In Love With The Sea

I never wanted to learn how to swim. That’s what I told myself, and that’s the truth. It didn’t matter to me that we moved to a small fishing village near the Sea of Japan. It didn’t matter that I had the perfect opportunity to give my obsession with the Japanese culture a validation. I was torn from my friends and forced to follow my family halfway across the globe for my parents’ jobs.

With no way of knowing if or when we’d be moving again. You might think I sound like a spoiled brat, but keep reading. It gets worse. I get worse. Much worse.

We arrived at our new house on a Friday, or was it Saturday? The sun was shining, but the wind made me wear long sleeves. All of our stuff had arrived the day before, so my dad picked up the keys from our new landlord, and we got to work. Or rather, I got to work trying to make our house into a home, and my parents only bothered to help until they found their laptops and figured out how to connect to the internet.

I glared at them as I balanced a box of Mom’s fossils on my hip. “Do you two have to start working now? I thought we were going to have a family celebration or something since we just arrived.”

Mom rolled her green eyes, hidden behind a thick pair of glasses, as she refused to look away from her screen. “We will. But first, your father and I have to finish looking at these photos for our articles. We told you this before we left.”

“You also said you’d help unpack first.” I lifted the box, placing it next to her while pointing out the label with her neat penmanship inked into it. “This isn’t my box. I’m trying to be nice and supportive. But I’m not going to be the only one doing everything for the house by myself again! The least you can do is bring your stuff to your room and help me find the stuff we need right away. Like our dishes and clothes?”

Dad, ever the unwilling peacekeeper of our family, pulled his phone out and grinned. “Don’t worry about the dishes, Meg. I’m going to order some food from that sushi restaurant you told us about.” He turned to me, brown eyes framed by laugh lines as he showed me his screen featuring a charcoal sketch of a whale’s skeleton. “It’s this one, right? The place is close by, and think of how jealous your friends will be when you brag about getting real sushi on your first night home!”

I tried not to roll my eyes. I really did. It was his way of showing that he’d been paying attention to some of my research. And I was glad he was trying to please me instead of giving me the hurt puppy look from behind Mom’s shoulder. But I couldn’t hold back. “Dad, that’s not a restaurant. It’s a museum dedicated to the whaling industry.”

I watched his face fall as he looked at the screen. “Oh… I guess it doesn’t make sense for a sushi place to have a skeleton on its sign. Sorry about that, Meg. But I am going to order some sushi for us tonight. Why don’t you focus on unpacking your things, and we’ll take a walk after we eat?”

“That… sounds good.” If you’ll still remember it later. I put the box on the counter, ignoring Mom’s glare that her precious workspace had been invaded while I watched Dad begin searching for dinner. “It would be cool if a museum did that. Sold sushi and other food, I mean.”

Dad nodded, grin back in place as he accepted my olive branch. “Yeah, it would! But it would be even better if the food was free. I miss the days when neighbors greeted each other and brought food to welcome newcomers to the neighborhood.”

Mom sighed, shaking her head at something while saying. “That kind of stuff only happens on TV, Toji. You shouldn’t talk about things that don’t matter. Robert said so, remember?”

“Robert doesn’t get to dissuade me from wanting a better life for my family…” He looked at me, and I ducked out of the kitchen. My parents refused to argue in front of me, and I refused to be dragged into the middle of their fights. I had a room to pick and fill before the sun went down. And a walk to take, regardless of whether I went with Dad or not.

At least I have a room this time. Our last place was so small. I had to sleep on the couch. I found a box with my name and went down the hall, passing a laundry room/bathroom before finding a bedroom. The floor was covered in a blue/green carpet that reminded me of paint mixing in water before turning it brown.

A bed with a metal frame was pressed against the wall under a window framed by yellow curtains. A dresser made of plywood and an open closet were the only things of note. How can anyone sleep next to a window? What if someone tries to break in? I put the box on the floor and took my first look at my new life.

It left much to be desired. The side of our house faced the sea, but the view was ruined by a dock that looked like it was made out of dead fish instead of wood. I wrinkled my nose, glad the window was closed, before turning to the box. Dad said there are only two bedrooms, so I may as well take this one. It’s not like the smell will get better from a different angle.

I pulled out my boxcutter and got to work. I’ve never been much of a decorator. And given how often we moved. I usually avoided collecting things. So, out of the who knows how many boxes we have. Only four had my name on their labels. Two contained clothes; one had my beloved Snitch console, and the last had my books, games, and a small statue of a whale carved from jade.

My parents bought it for me when they told me we were moving, and I still didn’t know what kind of whale it was supposed to be. But it was smooth and felt good in my hands. I didn’t believe in things like luck or karma. But I decided to put the statue on the window sill, with the head pointed towards the glass.

“You see that? You’re home, buddy. It’s too bad we might not be here long, but at least you got to see it.” The statue didn’t answer. It didn’t look impressed with the view. But after I finished unpacking, I decided to leave it there. Maybe it’ll absorb the heat from the sun, and I can use it to keep my hands warm?

I stepped out of my room and jumped when I almost ran into Dad. “Careful there, Meg. Don’t shoot the messenger. I come in peace!”

He raised his hands, and I laughed. “I reserve the right to shoot anyone who’s lurking outside my room. What’s up? Did you order food yet?”

My stomach growled when I mentioned food, and Dad scratched his head. “Well, that’s the thing…”

“There aren’t any restaurants out here, are there?” I knew it was a long shot, but there has to be a cafe or something out here!

Dad hugged me and looked over my shoulder to stare at my room. “Oh, look at that. You’ve finished unpacking already! You’re so good at this, Meg. Are you sure I can’t bribe you to finish unpacking the rest of our stuff? I was thinking we could take a boat ride or something before your first day of school.”

“I refuse to touch either of your underwear. You can’t pay me enough. And it’s summer, Dad. You’re stuck with me for a month.”

He chuckled as my stomach growled again. “Then I have plenty of time to take a boat ride with you. And there is a restaurant nearby!... They just don’t deliver or have menus online for some reason.”

“So, it’s a family-run place then?” I’ve never heard of a restaurant that doesn’t use menus. Maybe they run seasonal stuff? “Are you sure it’s open, Dad?”

He nodded and handed me his phone. The ad wasn’t flashy but had sushi, rice, and miso soup prominently displayed in the middle. But what caught my attention wasn’t the food. It was a caricature of a white whale in an apron stirring fish heads in a bucket with its tail. What is that supposed to be? Some kind of mascot? I still didn’t know how to feel when Dad led me out the door. 
Naked and Compiled