Hiroki walked down the busy afternoon crowd of the marina. He didn’t stand out here, another high school kid hanging out near the water when the weather was nice. Admittedly, he looked a little dorky, one of the few his age wearing pants instead of shorts, a messenger bag slung across his shoulder. Such distinctions from his peers didn’t bother him, though.
Hiroki sat down at one of the many picnic tables on the boardwalk, facing out onto the beach. He set his messenger bag down and unzipped it, extracting a laptop. It was rugged, a thick looking piece of tech that to the casual observer would have looked old with its thickness but which Hiroki opened with a certain deference.
There was homework to do, but Hiroki had other plans. His mother had ordered him out of the house, so he came here like he always did, mingling in with everyday people while he did things he was certain most of them would object to. That’s how it was, the best hiding place was right out in the open.
Hiroki turned on the laptop and began his work, piggybacking off of the boardwalks’ wifi to access a proxy. The thing wasn’t even secured. If someone looked for who was digging into secure networks, they’d have no way of deciding. Even on an unfavorable tourist season like this one, this part of Colston City saw thousands of people in foot traffic every week.
As he worked, he let his mind wander. He knew that to everyone else he was just the scrawny Asian kid at his computer, completely inconspicuous. He knew that he’d be left alone. Nobody talked to strangers in a city this size, and if they did they wouldn’t pick someone like him, who so obviously was engaged in the epitome of antisocial behav-
“Excuse me, young man?”
Hiroki looked up to see a bent over mockery of a man staring at him. Calling him older than dirty would have been an insult to dirt. He looked as though the wind coming off the ocean might cause him to keel over dead. He looked as though he had something to say that would inconvenience Hiroki.
“Can I help you?”
The old man gestured with the cane he was using, pointing in the direction of the rest of the tables. “I was wondering if I might sit here. Every place else is pretty much full.” Hiroki looked down the row of tables. There were business people off on lunch and kids loitering at pretty much every spot. He didn’t blame the old man, he would have asked a guy like him, too.
“Yeah, I suppose so. Help yourself.” Hiroki half-stood politely while the man sat next to him. That normally would have been pretty weird, considering the two other seats across the table, but everyone sat facing the ocean first. Nobody wanted to see the parking and the street unless they had no choice.
“How’re you doing today?” The old man asked as he settled into the chair. He extended a hand. “My name’s Arthur.”
“Hiroki,” he said, politely taking the old man’s hand. It was warm and firmer than Hiroki expected, at least. “And I’m doing all right. How about you?”
“Impossible to feel bad on a day as beautiful as this!” Arthur had his cane in between his legs, and he pounded the tip into the ground for emphasis. “When the world sees fit to give me a gift like this, I can’t help but bask in it and be thankful. A little like a lizard, you know?”
“Sure, I guess.” Hiroki stared at his screen. He would have put money on the fact that Arthur wouldn’t know the difference between general web surfing and Hiroki accessing the Colston City police department files, but he wasn’t going to risk it. He closed the window and just pulled up google and wikipedia and a bunch of other normal sites.
“So you’re a student?”
“High school,” Hiroki said.
“I don’t know yet,” Hiroki admitted. “I have a job opportunity if I want it as soon as I graduate. I’m not even sure what I’d study if I did go to college. My family wants me to go, though.”
“Is it a good job?”
“It’s interesting. Research heavy,” Hiroki said, turning to the man. “I have another year to decide. I’m only a junior.”
“Only a junior! You look so serious,” Arthur said with a chuckle. “I would have mistaken you for a college student if you hadn’t said something. Which begs the question of what you have to be so serious about.”
Hiroki shrugged. “I’m just a serious person. Always have been.”
Arthur nodded. “Let me guess, you don’t relate well to others your age. You’re awkward and unsure around them. You’d rather be around adults, or alone, because that’s easier to understand.”
Hiroki made a face. “Trying to play shrink on me, or are you just a creepy old man?”
“Just trying to make conversation,” Arthur replied. “But come on, just look at you, so super serious.”
Hiroki turned and looked out at the beach, trying to ignore him. Arthur seemed content at that answer, and stared out at the beach as well. The two sat in silence, looking at nothing in particular together.
It wasn’t that Hiroki was unable to make friends his own age, he just found them all so boring. They’d run around, trying to get into trouble, or trying to hook up, and he wasn’t interested in all those casual acquaintances. He supposed that made him weird, but his mother had always said that he had an ‘old soul.’
Hiroki tried hard to channel that sense of being normal, tried to think about what he should do to appear like every other kid. His eyes fell upon a group of girls frolicking out on the beach, tanned and slim and dressed in the most obvious and classic of beach attire--the bikini. Looking at girls was normal, right? He made it a point to openly stare.
The old man leaned over and nudged Hiroki. “Maybe you should ask one of those pretty girls out, eh?”
Hiroki rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to ask out one of those girls. Look at them. Look at me. Not even going to waste my time thinking about doing something so stupid.”
“You’re chicken.” The old man looked at the young girls, trying to size them up. “How about that one, the short one in the blue bikini.”
Hiroki knew which one he was talking about. She was the shortest one there, which made her the cutest as far as he was concerned. “I’m not going to go ask her out. What are you, crazy? Look at me, old man. Look at her. Girls like her don’t go out with guys like me.”
“Because I’m too serious, remember? I’m nerdy and antisocial and plain looking.”
“Some girls are just looking for a nerdy, plain looking guy who will have the courage to come up to them, you know. Not everyone wants someone exceptional.”
“I don’t believe you,” Hiroki said flatly.
“Neither do I,” Arthur answered. “Go ask her out anyway. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”
“You’re trying to humiliate me for laughs.”
“Never! Tell you what, if I’m wrong, it’s 20 bucks.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a battered old wallet. He pulled out the $20 and slapped it down on the table. “Yours if you come back empty handed.”
Hiroki glared at the old man. He was getting talked into a corner, and he knew it. “What if I succeed?”
“Then I’ll feel a little more optimistic about the world,” Arthur said. “You don’t have to pay me. Just trying to do a good deed.”
Arthur closed his laptop. Once closed, it would require a password he was pretty sure nobody would be able to crack to get into it. “You’re not going to try to rip off my computer if I go, are you? I can track it, you know.”
“Son, I wouldn’t know what to do with it even if I did sell it. Besides, I’m pretty sure you can outrun me.”
Hiroki nodded and then stood and walked down from the boardwalk to the beach, hand idly tracing along the railing as he tried hard not to think about the sudden turmoil in his stomach and instead think about how little he cared about the outcome of this event, how much work he had to do when he finally brushed off the old man.
He walked down the steps onto the beach proper and trudged across the sand towards the girl in the blue bikini. She was playing volleyball with some other friends, but the game seemed to be going at its own slow, lackadaisical pace.
“Excuse me?” Hiroki asked.
The girl turned towards him. “Yes?”
“Um … I was sitting up there…” Hiroki feebly gestured at the boardwalk and the table he had been sitting at. “And I couldn’t help noticing you down here, and I was wondering if you … uh … would like to go out some time?”
She looked over at the boardwalk, and then back at him. “You were watching me from all the way over there?”
“Yeah,” Hiroki answered with a shrug. “I … don’t mean to come across as a creep or anything, I just thought maybe I should give it a shot, y’know?”
She stared up at the boardwalk again, and then shrugged. “Sure, I’ll give you my number. You got a pen and some paper?”
“Um …” Hiroki reached down to his pockets. “No, not with me. I left my stuff back at my seat. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the girl said. “I’ll come with you.” The two of them began walking back towards the stairs to the boardwalk. “I’m Audrey.”
“Uh … my name’s Hiroki. Pleased to meet you,” he stammered, the voice in his head swearing at himself as much as it could to stop acting like such a jackass.
The two of them made their way back to the table where Arthur was sitting and Hiroki dug into his bag and pulled out a card and a pen. Audrey took them from him and jotted her name and number down on the card. Hiroki was glad she didn’t flip it over. He was suddenly very self-conscious about his business cards.
She handed the card and pen back to him. “I like movies and good coffee. I’m busy this week, but call me next week and we’ll make plans, okay?”
“Um … yeah, okay. Great. Thanks.” Hiroki could feel his face burning with embarrassment. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go down. How could success feel even more humiliating than failure? “I’ll call next week.”
She nodded and then turned to Arthur, bending down and giving the man a small hug. “You shouldn’t be such a meddler, Papa.”
“You know I can’t help myself,” Arthur said with a shrug of his sagging shoulders and a smile. “Besides, it worked out, didn’t it?”
Audrey looked up at Hiroki, appraising him. Hiroki did his best not to squirm under their joint assessment. “Yeah, he’ll do.” She gave the old man a small kiss on the cheek. “I’ll tell Mom you said hi.” She stood up and headed back towards the beach. “Next week, Hiroki. Call me.”
Hiroki nodded dumbly, watching her turn and leave. Arthur just hummed happily to himself, fiddling with the cane in his hands and watching the crowd go by.