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Thread: The Pariah (completed 3/6)

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    The Pariah (completed 3/6)

    First and foremost, I want to acknowledge Ishigreensa from the DD forums for the inspiration, as this is essentially my own take on his unfinished piece "Yukari". I wanted to do more than just finish the story, so as much as I enjoyed the suspense his first-person account gave, what with the girl's limited English comprehension, I decided to start from the beginning and give multiple viewpoints along with more background and more building of the characters. I hope you enjoy, but more importantly, I hope I do justice to his efforts.

    PS: To those of you following The Panda's Ashes, this is me taking a little break from what has been a very difficult section to write. I'll get there, I promise.

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    1

    Mark Austin was silent in the aisle seat of Japan Airlines flight 6505 to Los Angeles. He let loose a quiet sigh as he looked down at the little girl sitting next to him, her attention firmly fixed on a portable video game in her lap. There was no doubt that she was her father's daughter, despite her distinctive Oriental features; she had his strong cheekbones and his icy blue eyes behind her thick glasses. His mind wandered to the fateful day when his former bunk-mate, Frank, called with the terrible news…

    Hello?

    Mark.

    Hey Frank! What's going on? You still stationed over…

    Yeah. I ain't calling to reminisce, bro.

    Wait, what's wrong?

    She came to the base looking for you, Mark.

    Who did? Oh fuck, not that…

    Yeah, that one.

    Heh, what'd she want, another helping?

    Not quite. She had a baby with her, man. Said it was yours.

    What the fuck?! That slut probably slept with half the platoon!

    If she did, she had better targets than you, Mark. You were only an E-3, remember?

    So what am I supposed to do now? I can't fly back there to take a paternity test! Janet would hit the fucking roof!

    Either that or you'd better start figuring out how to send her money without Janet knowing. You know how the prefectures are about coming after Army boys.

    Oh shit, don't tell me…

    Yeah, she said she was going to file the paperwork if she didn't hear from you pretty quick…


    It was practically extortion, but Mark hardly was in a position to do anything about it, what with a two-year-old girl of his own to take care of and an insanely jealous wife to try and hide it from. It was one night, one stupid, stupid mistake, and then the unthinkable happened. He'd only been back stateside for five months when that call came. He kept the situation pretty effectively under wraps for a good two years after that, quietly sending Frank money out of his very generous salary as head of security for a huge San Bernardino tech outfit. Then Janet got pregnant again, and when the money started getting tight, she got suspicious. He'd never forget that night he came home to her sitting at the dining room table with the bank statements. He tried to dodge her probing questions, but she was relentless, and eventually he confessed.

    Shockingly, Janet didn't flip out on him. No, she did much, much worse. For eight long years she lorded it over him. She stripped him of any and all authority in the household. The finances, raising the kids, she took control of all of it. She pushed him into buying a much bigger house, forcing him to sacrifice every last penny of his "allowance" to make the payments. He sold his '62 Vette to pay for her redecorating of the dining room, including the 18th century Rococo dining room suite and matching china cabinet. He even spent the better part of three years working double shifts, putting in 70-80 hours a week, to finance her start-up business, a home medical supply company. And she didn't hesitate to rub his nose in the incredible success of that venture, either. By the time she "allowed" him to cut back his hours to a more manageable 60 a week, she was out-earning him while spending less than 20 hours a week at the shop.

    Then he got word that Yukari's mother had died. And when he found out that the child was headed for an orphanage if no one stepped up to claim her, the guilt overrode his desire to keep the peace with Janet. She went completely ballistic when he announced his intention to collect the child and bring her back to the States. He was, quite frankly, surprised she didn't file for divorce. The fact that she didn't, however, made him genuinely nervous over what new blackmail she had planned when they returned.

    When he picked the child up at the prefecture child guidance center, he was somewhat shocked, but also relieved to discover that her mother had apparently told the girl that her father was dead. It made things much simpler for him, really, to just let her believe he was nothing more than a family friend. He was a bit surprised at the girl's lack of English comprehension, and he worried about what sort of arrangements he… or more likely Janet… would need to make at the private school where his other children were enrolled.

    His thoughts were disrupted by the flight attendant bringing around the drink cart, from which he gladly took a scotch and soda. He turned to the young girl to ask if she wanted anything, but she had dozed off in the waning hours of the evening. With a sigh, he covered her up with his jacket and gazed out the window as the sun fell behind them, watching darkness fall heavily across the ocean, much like the foreboding which cast its shadow over his mind.

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    Re: The Pariah

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    To say that Yukari was nervous as she gazed out the window at the sprawl of Los Angeles beneath her would be an understatement. She wasn't even sure why exactly it was decided that she would be going to America with this strange man, though it was at least better than a home for unwanted children in Tokyo. That did little to assuage her fears about moving to a foreign country, where she scarcely understood the language. Her friends were probably at school now, wondering what happened to her, why she wasn't there. She had heard many things about American children, but none of them had been good. People said American children were big and fat and hateful toward anyone they saw as different from them. She was very, very different. She was the smallest girl in her class at home, never mind in this land of giants! She shuddered at how they would treat someone like her, a clumsy, tiny girl with poor eyesight.

    As the plane got closer to the ground, she looked up at the man who had merely introduced himself as her mother's friend, but found no comfort in his expression. In fact, since yesterday, it seemed that he turned away every time she tried to look directly at him. Did he think she was ugly? He wasn't fat like people talked about Americans, but maybe he didn't like people who looked different from him either. Maybe that's why he said he was friends with her mother, yet Yukari had never met him.

    Her thoughts were disrupted by the stewardess' voice over the speakers, very little of which she understood. She looked around and saw other people buckling their seatbelts, so she did likewise. She tucked her PSP into her pocket and folded her hands with a sigh. The plane came to a stop at the terminal, and the strange man led her off the plane and to a parking lot. He opened the door of a very big truck and helped her up into the seat, then tossed her bags in the back and drove off.
    Yukari had imagined America to look a great deal like Tokyo, only in a different language. She was very surprised as she looked out the window and discovered a place with much more open spaces. It actually looked kind of nice; the buildings weren't all cramped together, there weren't advertisements everywhere. In fact, when they finally got out of the city, it was quite beautiful.

    "Well, this is home," the man said as the truck pulled up in front of what seemed to Yukari to be a huge building. She sat in awe; certainly there was more than one family living in such a place, else the Austin family must be fabulously rich. She followed Mr. Austin into the front door and was struck completely silent at what she saw. The tiny apartment she and her mother lived in back home was no bigger than half of one room in this, this palace!

    "I said HELLO!" a stern-sounding woman's voice snapped her out of her stupor.

    "Sorry," she stammered back, "Herro, my name is Yukari." She did her best to speak slowly and clearly, to try and give a good impression.

    "Yes, we know," the woman snapped back. "I am Mrs. Austin, and that is how you will … me at all times." Yukari only missed the one word, but she understood the message; this was not her family, she was a guest. "This is Tommy," Mrs. Austin continued, pointing to a boy about her size sitting on the couch, "and this is Vicky," referring to a very tall girl standing next to her. Vicky smiled at her, but in a way that made Yukari feel very uncomfortable. Tommy waved at her and smiled, but said nothing. Not wanting to be rude, she waved back.

    "The first thing we need to … is the rules," Mrs. Austin spoke up again. A nervousness began to rise up in the little girl, and she straightened up and dropped her hands to her sides, locking her eyes on the stern woman as she spoke.

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    Re: The Pariah

    Tell you what, I'm going to just stop numbering these things, because I'm basically just pushing out each perspective change as it happens…

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    Janet never perceived herself as a cruel or hateful person, but standing there as the specter of her husband's unfaithfulness casually walked through her front door was pouring salt in a wound that had yet to heal, thanks to the monthly checks she'd watched leave their bank account for the last eleven years. When she finally challenged him on it, he spent the entire conversation apologizing about the money and hiding it from her, but he never once expressed remorse for what he had done that caused the whole mess. It was as though he saw nothing wrong with sleeping around on her while she was home taking care of his firstborn. There were no tears of regret, only his Army-bred stoicism, as though she were his drill sergeant, and he was answering for an order he failed to follow. Instead of leaving him, though, she exacted her revenge by morphing into a high-maintenance housewife. It was never about the money; it was about stripping him of his manhood, making him as empty as she felt, making him hurt the way she hurt.

    She was stunned the day he announced his intentions to go and collect this little urchin. He had been completely deferential to the point of meekness prior to that point, but when she tried to threaten and cajole him into abandoning his seemingly half-cocked plan, he stood up to her for the first time in nine years. When he left on that plane, she seriously considered filing for divorce, but then she realized that, for the first time in nine years, he was in the position of power. No judge would be sympathetic to her, and with her business actually generating more income than his job, he'd be able to extract alimony payments from her. He'd win, in the end, and that was an intolerable outcome.

    So, in the face of this insult, she devised another plan. If he wanted to bring this child, this manifestation of her hate into her home, she would make him regret it. The child would not be welcomed as a family member, but treated as a second-class citizen. She would make sure it was fed and clothed, she would make sure it went to school, but not the exclusive private school her own children attended, and it would earn its keep at home. Perhaps Mark refused to toe her line this time, but she'd make sure his progeny did in his stead.

    And so, when the girl walked through the door, she actively suppressed her own mothering instinct, and fixated instead on the vengeance she intended to wreak on Mark. Her greeting was frigid, as was her introductions of her own children, and when she spoke directly to the rules, inside she smiled as Mark looked at her in shock. It was clear he wanted to speak, but she gave him a withering glance, then turned back to the girl.

    "First of all, you are not a guest in this house. You will be expected to pull your own weight. Specifically, you will be responsible for washing and putting away the dishes daily and cleaning the common areas of the house on a weekly basis. I will provide a chart on the refrigerator that details which rooms are to be cleaned on what day, along with a list of what must be cleaned in each room.

    Mark's mouth dropped, but she glared at him and continued, "Next, we do not have enough space currently to give you a room of your own. If Mr. Austin can find the means and the time to rectify that situation, he is welcome to."

    He frowned angrily, but remained silent. "In the interim, your clothes will be kept in our bedroom, and you will have a sleeping bag to sleep in out here in the living room."

    "Come ON, Janet!" Mark cut in finally. "Why can't she have the spare room?"

    "Because that's not a 'spare room', it's my OFFICE, and I'll not have this little wretch getting into my paperwork!"

    "Oh for…" he started. "Fine, then, she can share Vicky's room!"

    Janet started to argue, but then looked over at the couch and saw the fire in her daughter's eyes. "Well I guess you'll have to take that up with Vicky then, won't you?"

    One of the side effects of Mark's perpetual submission was that Vicky had developed quite the sense of entitlement where he was concerned, often treating him as little more than a walking ATM machine. It made her chuckle when she watched the teenager manipulate her father like a spoiled princess. Vicky respected her mother; there was no question of that, but Mark was as neatly wrapped around her finger as he was Janet's own. It would be very interesting, seeing how long his newfound defiance lasted against her rage…

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    Re: The Pariah

    "No WAY, Dad!" Vicky shouted as she jumped up to her feet. This mousey little runt had been amusing up until this point, particularly the glazed-over look she wore when Mom started reading off rules to her, but invading Vicky's personal space was over the line. "I'm not having that little weirdo messing around with my stuff!"

    "Vicky," Mark's exasperated tone rang out, "It's only for a little while, until I can have a new room added on."

    "I'm almost fifteen years old, Dad! I'm not sharing my room with some little kid who probably still plays with dolls and wets her bed!"

    "Now cut that out!" Mark snapped. "Yukari is only two years younger than you!"

    "I don't care. Put her in a closet or something. She's not staying in my room!"

    "She can stay in my room," her little brother piped up, "I don't mind. It'll be like a sleepover."

    "There you go. Put her in Tommy's room. Great idea, Tommy!" Vicky grinned down at the boy, who seemed to brighten up at her praise.

    "I don't see where it's appropriate…" Mark started to reply, but was quickly cut off.

    "That's perfect," Janet stated flatly. "She can sleep and keep her clothes in Tommy's room, and she can get dressed in the bathroom. And you can put in some extra overtime at work to fund the building of the addition, if you want her to have her own room." She glared over at Mark, who fell silent and shook his head.

    "Now then, Yukari. For the time being, you'll have a sleeping bag on the floor in Tommy's room, until your father can afford you a real bed."

    As her mother launched back into her rules and regulations tirade, Vicky sat back down and resumed watching Yukari's expressions. She chuckled a bit as the odd-looking little girl buckled her knees a bit and clenched her hands together in front of her, as though she had to pee. This might get very entertaining in a minute, she thought to herself.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    As she silently watched the conversation bounce around the room, understanding little of what had been said, Yukari cursed herself for not working up the nerve to use the bathroom on the plane. Now she was stuck standing here, her bladder aching, hoping the conversation bouncing around the room would come to a stop so she could ask for the bathroom. She couldn't imagine herself being rude like the one called Vicky and just interrupting everyone, especially not to ask such a trivial question.

    Much to her dismay, even after the argument died down, the woman called Mrs. Brown jumped right back into talking directly at her. She did her best to pay attention, but the woman was speaking so fast she couldn't pick up the words. Something about sleeping, and something else about cleaning. The word "chores" came up several times. She tried to focus on the words, but soon the need to urinate consumed all her attention, and she began to squirm around, trying to find a comfortable position to stand and still hold back the rising demand.

    After what seemed like an eternity, Mrs. Brown stopped and said, "Do you understand?"

    Finally, an opportunity to speak! "Yes, Missers Brown. May I go bassroom now prease?" she stammered out.

    "You haven't heard a word I said, have you?!" the lady snapped back at her.

    "Uh… Very sorry… Yukari Engrish not so good." The girl was frustrated once more, and getting desperate. She tried to appease the mother, "I hear some words… not know others… Missers Brown talk very fast, no can hear all words she say. I try harder again, but prease I go bassroom now?"

    "Oh for…" Clearly the woman was not happy at all with her. "The bathroom is up the stairs and to the right. Do you understand that?" Mrs. Brown spoke very, very slowly and pointed toward a staircase at the end of the room.

    "Sank you," Yukari offered. She walked in the direction Mrs. Brown pointed, but as soon as she moved, she began to leak. She felt her face flush hot as urine spurted into her panties with each step, but she bravely kept going, trying to at least make it there before she completely soaked herself. The staircase was even worse – each time she picked a foot up, it gushed, despite her best efforts. Blushing hot, she managed half a dozen steps before Mrs. Brown yelled at her, and she froze in place.

    "Did you just pee your pants?! What is WRONG with you?! Turn around and look at me!"

    Yukari could hear Vicky laughing, and she trembled with embarrassment as she completely lost control of her bladder. She knew she should say something, but no words came, so she turned around with her head down. The crotch of her jeans was visibly soaked, and she could feel the urine dripping down her leg.

    "I thought you said she was TWELVE, Mark, not THREE!"

    "Why didn't you ask to go before this?" Mark asked her. Even he sounded annoyed, and she froze, humiliated and fearful.

    "Very Sorry, Mister Mark…" was all she could manage.

    "Never mind. Mark, you go deal with it!" Mrs. Brown said angrily. She held out Yukari's travel bag, and Mark sighed as he took it from her.

    "Come on, let's get you cleaned up," he said as he walked toward her. He led her up the steps and into the bathroom, then fished out a change of clothes as she stood there, red-faced and silent.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Tommy spent most of the conversation in the living room silent until he volunteered his own bedroom for this poor girl who looked so frightened by his mother and sister. Mom had told them both that Yukari was not a relative of any kind, and was only here because their father made a mess of things in Japan before he came home. Tommy didn't even realize Dad had ever gone to Japan, until Mom explained that it was before he was born.

    Still, he felt terrible for this little girl. They told him she was twelve, but she looked about the same age as him, and when she peed her pants going up the stairs, he felt sure she had to be younger. No matter how old she was, it was clear to him that she could use a friend, and he decided that friend was going to be him.

    Dad and Yukari came back down the stairs, her face still as red as it was when she went up to get changed. He shuddered as he remembered Mom giving him a spanking and making him wear diapers the day he was sent home early from first grade for wetting his pants. He wondered if Dad had done the same with Yukari. It was hard to tell from the long skirt she was wearing, but she didn't look as though she'd been crying, and he certainly hadn't heard anything that sounded like spanking going on up there.

    "You are NOT to sit on anything in this room until you prove that you can use the bathroom properly, little girl!" Mom snapped. "I won't have you ruining my upholstery with pee stains! Do you understand?" He heard Vicky laugh again, the way she laughed at him every time he had an accident. It made him so angry, how mean his sister was. One day he'd be bigger than her, and he'd make her stop laughing at people and being so mean. One day seemed like a long, long time from now, though.

    "Yes Missers Brown," Yukari said quietly, though she didn't look like she understood.

    "Tell me what I said then!" Mom snapped back.

    "You say… Yukari no sit in that room."

    "Good. Mark can go BACK over the rules I laid out later, since you CLEARLY weren't listening! Now get out of my sight!"

    "I'll help her put her things away," Tommy piped up. Maybe they could get a chance to talk some in his room without Vicky or Mom yelling or laughing at her.

    "Fine," Mom snapped. He scampered up to the stairs and grabbed her hand. Dad handed her the bag of clothes and smiled at Tommy.

    "Thanks buddy," Dad said quietly, and ruffled his hair.

    He led Yukari up to his room and closed the door. "I… uh… I'm Tommy," he stuttered out, suddenly unsure of what to say.

    The little girl smiled at him and said, "Sank you for sharing room with me. You are very kind."

    Now it was Tommy's turn to blush. "Um… it's okay…" He paused for a moment, then turned and fished through his toybox. "You want to play with my robots?" He held up his Transformer figures proudly.

    Yukari smiled at him and nodded, and the two sat down and began playing. She seemed much more interested in robots than any other girls he'd ever met, and he thought that was pretty amazing.

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    Re: The Pariah

    Should've seen that coming, you idiot, Mark thought ruefully to himself. Janet had been entirely too quiet when Mark left, and sure enough, she completely blindsided him the second they walked into the door. She was determined to make this poor kid into a servant girl, and with Vicky's unexpected revolt, there would be little he could do to stop her until he scratched up the money to build Yukari's bedroom. He'd be working 90, maybe 100 hours a week for the foreseeable future, including sacrificing the day off he had planned tomorrow to help Yukari get comfortable with the family on an outing to Disneyland.

    "You know, you could have stated your intentions before I left for Japan," he stated flatly.

    "Yes, and you could have stated YOUR intentions before you left for Japan the LAST time you went," she mocked. "That's your little waterspout in there, not mine. You brought home the stray, you take care of it."

    "Janet, for Christ's sake! You want to hate me, fine, but she didn't do anything to you. You can at least treat her like a human being!"

    "I am. As long as she's cluttering up my house, she can be the maid you refuse to pay for. I don't have the time to take care of another child, certainly not one who apparently isn't housebroken. And you'd better believe I'm not spending a nickel of MY money building a kennel for it, either."

    "Yeah, you made that clear already. Why do I even bother talking to you?"

    He fished his phone out of his pocket in disgust. With a great sigh, he dialed the firm to let them know he'd be coming in after all. It was sickeningly ironic, really; his willingness to work outlandish amounts of overtime led management to not bother replacing several team members who had left the firm, leaving him with a skeleton crew and giving those who remained all the overtime they could stand. As painful as it was missing out on his kids growing up, spending most of his waking hours at work was easier than facing Janet's icy stare, her snide comments, and her constant demands. He could take her hate, though. Now the stakes were higher; there was a little girl he needed to protect from the monster he'd created, and he had no idea how he was going to do it.

    "Dinner is ready. Go get your… indiscretion… and bring her to the table." Janet's derision snapped him out of his brooding. He got up from the armchair, the one object in the house that was his, that his wife hadn't replaced with museum furniture, and walked upstairs.

    He was rather surprised when he opened the door to his son's room and found the two children playing intensely with Tommy's robot toys. Maybe she IS immature, he thought to himself, maybe her whole politeness thing was just how she was raised. Then again, maybe the poor kid is lonely…

    "Okay kids, dinner is ready," he announced quietly. Yukari looked up and said nothing, standing up and straightening out her skirt as best as possible.

    "What are we having?" Tommy asked, attempting to follow the little girl's lead. That took Mark by surprise; usually his son grumped and groaned and begged for more time to play. Maybe she could be a good influence on him...

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    Re: The Pariah

    For her part, Yukari found playing with Tommy a welcome respite after the nightmare beginning to her new life in this strange country. Toy robots weren't exactly high on her list of favorite things to do, but the boy seemed to be the only one in this house that wasn't angry with her at this point, so letting him take the lead in game play was a small price. Still, the time passed very quickly, quickly enough that she was somewhat surprised when Mark appeared at the door to announce the evening meal. She quickly and quietly followed him downstairs, Tommy in tow behind her. When they arrived in the dining room, her eyes met Mrs. Brown's scowl, and she dropped her head.

    "Do you need to 'go bassroom' before dinner?" the woman mocked. "If you pee on my … chair, you'll be in BIG trouble!"

    Yukari shook her head quickly, afraid to move. Some of the words were unfamiliar, but she got the gist of Mrs. Brown's point.

    "Come on, Janet! She had an … Are you going to … the rest of her life …?" Mark cut in, sounding exasperated. He spoke more quickly, and Yukari had more difficulty comprehending his phrases.

    "I don't … Mark! She's … twelve … years old! If she does it again, I … put her in a …!" Mrs. Brown's words came hard and fast as she brought the plates of food over to the table, and clearly she was still angry about the shameful wetting incident. Yukari blushed furiously, her eyes remaining fixed on her shoelaces.

    Tommy took Yukari's hand and led her over to a chair before sitting down next to her. Vicky, who was already seated, snickered audibly. "Looks like Tommy found himself a …!" she laughed.

    "Shut up, Vicky!" Tommy snapped back. "Why are you and Mom so mean to her? She didn't do anything to you!"

    "Tommy no get trouble prease. Yukari deserve shame for wetting pants," Yukari said quietly. "Vicky and Missers Brown right to be angry at Yukari." As sweet as Tommy was for defending her, she wasn't about to let him get in trouble for being rude to his mother.

    The room went quiet at her statement, everyone looking at her in something of a shock, and she blushed once more. They ate in silence, and when the meal was finished, Mrs. Brown spoke up. "Yukari, please take all the dishes to the sink, rinse them off in hot water, then put them in the dishwasher. Tommy, you may go watch TV until bath time."

    "Yes Missers Brown," Yukari replied softly. The rest of the family left the dining area, and without a further word, she did as she was asked, taking the plates and glasses and silverware into the kitchen and rinsing them off. She worked as quickly as she could, despite the counter being very high. Unfortunately, she worked a bit too quickly, as a glass slipped through her wet hand as she was trying to put it in the dishwasher and fell to the floor with a crash. Yukari froze, terrified.

    "WHAT DID YOU BREAK?!" Mrs. Brown yelled from the other room. Her heavy footsteps came rapidly, and Yukari trembled.

    "Very sorry, Missers Brown," she cried, panicking, "Yukari drop glass! Yukari stupid and clumsy girl!"

    "Go stand there and face the wall!" Mrs. Brown snapped, pointing toward a corner of the room. "And don't move until I tell you!"

    Yukari complied silently, her mind racing with possible outcomes, all of them bad. She listened to the sound of the glass being swept up, Mrs. Brown grumbling the whole time. Yukari was stunned to hear footfalls leading away from the room, and was left alone to wonder what her punishment would be. Stupid, clumsy idiot! she thought to herself. She heard muffled yelling in the other room, Mrs. Brown and Mark arguing back and forth. They're going to send you to the Kojiin now, and you deserve it! The yelling stopped suddenly after a few minutes, and then there was silence, save the faint noise from the TV. She waited quietly, unmoving, wondering when Mrs. Brown was going to come back and announce to her that she was no longer welcome in this house.

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    Re: The Pariah (updated 1/26)


    More please!

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    Re: The Pariah (updated 1/26)

    I like this story, a lot. So more please!

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    Re: The Pariah (updated 1/26)

    Glad you're enjoying it. More is coming.

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    Re: The Pariah (updated 1/26)

    Her young son's sharp rebuke at the dinner table had nearly set Janet off on a tirade, but she was struck silent by Yukari's response. Had she paid anything attention at all to Mark's discussions about culture when he returned home from his stay over there, she'd know that this was merely what all Japanese children were taught regarding manners. Instead, she was left to ruminate about what exactly this child was about. In fact, by the end of dinner, she had built up a high level of expectations regarding Yukari's sense of responsibility, and was beginning to think that her plan of putting the child to work as a housekeeper of sorts was going to work out rather well.

    That is, until she heard the crash in the kitchen. She was furious at the damage and ensuing mess, not so much because of the inexpensive glass Yukari broke, but that the child was clearly not to be trusted with her rare old china, something she had to clean herself on a twice-monthly basis. Tommy was far too young to handle such delicate things, and Vicky always rushed through her chores with reckless abandon, determined to move on to things she preferred to do. After banishing Yukari to the corner and cleaning up the broken glass, she stormed back out to the living room.

    "Vicky! Go finish the dishes!" she shouted.

    "I'm watching TV! Make Tommy do it!"

    "You know damned well your brother is even clumsier than that little wretch in there!"

    Vicky groaned her own disgust. "Fine!" Off she stomped, and Janet turned her ire toward Mark.

    "None of this would be happening if you'd just hire a goddamned maid like I've asked you to for years!"

    "And I've told you every single time, I can't afford to pay for the mortgage, the second mortgage we took to start your business up, the utilities, the kids' tuition, AND a maid! And now I've got to work MORE hours just so that poor kid can have a bedroom! You want someone to clean the house for you, YOU pay for it. It's not like you pay for ANYTHING else!"

    "I'm growing my business, damn you! I have to reinvest if I'm going to get any kind of long-term future out of this company where I don't have to work so many hours just to keep those fools doing their jobs! I can't even hire a full-time floor manager right now!"

    "You work 30 hours a week, Janet! I work 80 or more!"

    "Yes, and I have to run the kids to school and all their appointments, make sure the maintenance gets done on this place, take care of all the laundry, feeding all four of you, while you're working all day and night! Don't act like I have all the time in the world to just lay around and do NOTHING!"

    "Please, stop yelling at each other!" Tommy cut in. "It's making my head hurt!"

    Mark's voice softened. "I'm sorry buddy. Come on, let's get you an aspirin." He turned back to Janet. "This discussion is over. The kids are perfectly capable of doing enough chores to keep the place clean." He took Tommy's hand and led him up the stairs, speaking softly to him the whole way.

    Janet was now by herself, fuming, listening to the drone of the TV and the faint sound of Vicky's grumbling in the kitchen. If Mark refused to pay cash for a maid, she'd make sure he paid for it in other ways. She chuckled to herself at the thought of him washing his own clothes and fixing his own meals for a while, listening to him whine about being too tired from sitting at a TV screen all day and night. Maybe giving him some firsthand experience dealing with the problem would change his mind.

    Of course, there was also the matter of the little runt standing in corner of the kitchen. She had to decide what would be an appropriate punishment for a servant girl who shirked her duties…

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