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Authors: Andrew Xia Fukuda

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Crossing

BOOK: Crossing
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CROSSING
 
Andrew Xia Fukuda
 

PUBLISHED BY

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright ©2010 Andrew Xia Fukuda
All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Author Photo by Justin Ong
www.jongphoto.com

Published by AmazonEncore
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

ISBN: 978-1-935597-03-2

 

For my parents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 

I
am indebted to many for their help and encouragement over the years. Specifically, I wish to thank: My indefatigable editor, Terry Goodman, for believing in and working so tirelessly on
Crossing
.

Manhattan’s Chinatown community that meant and continues to mean so much to me: Jeffrey He, Barry Li, Edward Tay, James Suen, Raymond Hom, Simon Wu, Yoki Poon, Ching-Hua Liang, Ken Tsui, Ricky Li, Gary Kwok, Will Liu, and Joanna Yip. Without you, I could never have written this novel. In particular: May Lee, Kenny Chau, Peter Ong, Marion Hsieh, Courtney Chinn, and Kyle Hubers.

My parents, who lovingly and wisely instilled in me a deep love for books; and my brothers, Jim and Mike, who encouraged me from an early age—by way of sibling rivalry—to write stories, stories, and more stories. This novel is the result.

My two energetic sons, Chris and John, who although too young to even read these words, have added balance, joy, and depth to both my life and writing.

And, most of all, Ching-Lee.

 
XING
 
 
  • , pronounced
    Shing
    , meaning “star”
  •  
  • a crossing
  •  
 
 
 

I
n the heady days of that winter, my name and face were plastered on the front page of every major newspaper and weekly newsmagazine. It was some years ago, I know, and many more sensational stories have come and gone, but perhaps you might recall the story if I remind you of some of the more salient details.

Do you remember my name, Xing Xu?

Or the newspaper photograph of me—that unflattering shot of me in my eighth grade class portrait where my head was circled to stand me out in the back row? I was frowning because of the harsh light, and my face looked pinched and stingy. There was no need to circle my head—I already stood out for obvious reasons.

Is it coming back to you yet? The Chinese kid who lived in an all-white town, attended an all-white high school, the shy outsider, aloof and inscrutable? The media even dug up my (fake) immigration papers, of all things. They left no stone unturned; but really, can you blame them? The public’s hunger for information proved to be insatiable.
USA Today
published my report card, something I have mixed feelings about. It was nice for people to know about my A in English, but I wish I could have explained my C-in American History.

Surely you must remember by now. The kid who could sing like an angel? Or how about this, the ultimate buzzwords:
disappeared children
. That’s what usually does it for most people, what triggers their memories. Just say “the disappeared children of Ashland, New York,” and instantly they’re thinking of me, that Chinese kid.

Articles, books, and even a made-for-TV movie special have depicted the events of that autumn. They tend to focus on the disappeared children. I wish they didn’t do that. The story isn’t really about them. And they always seem to start with the first disappearance, Justin Dorsey. See, right there and then, they have it all wrong. Because the story doesn’t start with Dorsey. It doesn’t start with any kind of disappearance. It starts, rather, with an appearance—the first appearance of that new girl during one of the snowiest autumns on record.

But they just don’t understand that. They’ve never been able to.

AUGUST 27, 2008
 

I
n the fall of 2008, before the abductions began, I was a nervous freshman enrolled at Slackenkill High School. Five hundred and eighty-two students were officially enrolled, of whom I had significant interaction with only one: Naomi Lee. She was the only other Asian in the whole school. Yes, we stood out like sore thumbs. I’ll spare you the clichés.

On the first day, I entered high school full of good intentions to make my social life a little more robust than my disastrous junior high school days. But to my dismay, I found—even on the very first day—that impenetrable cliques had already formed. Girls decked out in their pink spaghetti-strap blouses clamored into each other’s tanned arms. Guys gave each other high-five fists. It was as if school had actually begun two weeks ago, and I, the latecomer, was arriving when the wet cement of social dynamics had already solidified.

Really, all I wanted on my first day of high school was to fly under the radar. Not an easy task, however, considering I was one of only two Asian students in an all-white school. And an almost impossible task when the homeroom teacher butchers your name beyond recognition.

“Ex-ing X-you?” she said. Her name was Miss Winters, and I took an instant dislike to her. She was a rotund woman with gobs of fat wobbling all over her body like Jell-O. For a teacher with years of experience, she seemed remarkably nervous that first day. She spoke in a pitched, shaky voice, bags of cheek fat quivering like they were trying to break free. When she had earlier written her name on the blackboard, her beefy hands swallowed up the piece of chalk, and the fat along the axis of her arm had swung like heavy pendulums.

The classroom, full of Smiths and Robinsons and Bernsteins, paused.

“Ex-ing X-you?” she asked again.

I raised my hand quickly. “Here,” I mumbled.

Miss Winters stared at me over the top of her glasses. She moved her finger down to the next name, paused, then looked at me again. “How do you pronounce your name?” she asked through a shiny, plastic smile. She thought of herself as cultured, a world-traveling sophisticate.

“Call me Kris.”

“But your Chinese name. How do you pronounce your Chinese name?”

“Just call me Kris.”

She glanced down at the name again. “Ex-ing X-Sue?”

“Xing Xu,” I said slowly, painfully. “But just call me Kris.
Please
.”

At this, the class burst out. My high school career was off to a rollicking start.

Only one other person was not laughing. My best—and only—friend, Naomi Lee, who was sitting next to me. Years ago, when she’d first arrived in my classroom fresh off the boat, I hated her. This “Oriental” girl—with her chop-suey English and FOB clothes—had brought unnecessary attention to all that differentiated me from my classmates, the kind of attention I’d spent years trying to avoid. But now I envied her. There was the simplicity of her name, for one. An official American first name that her parents had the wherewithal to give her when they first arrived. Plus the incredible fortune of having a Chinese surname that coincided with an American one.

But it was not only her name I secretly envied. She now spoke English with a pitch-perfect accent. I’d been in America two years longer than she, in fact, but you wouldn’t know it from the heavily accented Chinglish I used. Her English was Julie Chen perfect; mine was Jackie Chan cumbersome. She had picked up English the way she picked up most everything else: quickly, brilliantly, naturally. She was an academic marvel, achieving in three years what few do in a lifetime. She had surpassed her white peers in every department, including English. She took sample SATs for fun and near aced them every time. She was destined for Harvard.

Just as the laughter was dying down, the principal, Mr. Marsworth, walked in. He was invariably a bungling mess. He could never get his hair in order, and his eyes, bugging out from the sockets, only added to his jittery aura. Behind him was a rather peculiar-looking girl.

The principal handed the girl over to Miss Winters, whispered a few quick words, and took off quickly, as if glad to unburden himself from a most disagreeable task. Miss Winters regarded the girl coolly.

“Class,” she said in her shrill, officious voice, “let me interrupt you. Today we have a new student with us. Now, I know that we’re all new students today, but she’s especially new. She’s from out of state, Montana. I’m sure all of us will extend to her the utmost of courtesy and warmth.” She turned and prodded the girl forward. “OK, please introduce yourself to the class.”

The girl stepped forward. Her skin was pale, melted candle wax flung onto bones. Her hair lay limp and lifeless in a matted mess. Her clothes hung on her like a reluctant afterthought.

The classroom waited in a silent mix of amusement and bemusement. The girl said nothing. Looking at her, I came away with the distinct impression of a passionless being, completely devoid of whatever it was that separated human beings from cardboard boxes.

“Just tell us your name and where you’re from,” Miss Winters urged.

Still she said nothing. She only stood in silence, hands trembling at her sides. Only then did I notice her thick eyebrows and piercing green eyes; against her pale face, they were startling in their intensity.

“No need to be afraid, now. Just tell us your name.”

The girl hesitated like a child on a springboard. She murmured something, a whittled whisper.

“Speak louder,” rang out Miss Winters.

“Jan Blair,” the girl said.

“Blair?” asked Miss Winters. “Like the movie?”

The girl turned crimson. She nodded fiercely, but Miss Winters did not seem to understand.

“You know the movie,” continued Miss Winters. “
The Blair Witch Project
?”

Jan Blair must have known it was inevitable. But even in her most pessimistic of moods, she’d likely never suspected it would have taken hold so quickly. And to be instigated by a teacher, at that.

“She’s the Blair Witch!” someone yelled from the back of the classroom, and a heckler’s chorus of jeers broke out. Miss Winters pressed a chubby finger against her lips, her shushing sound drowned out.

Jan Blair’s head hung dejectedly as if her neck muscles had suddenly snapped. Her mangy bangs dangled over her face.

“The Blair Witch!” someone shouted again, relishing the moment.

“Be quiet!” shushed Miss Winters. “Quiet! Quiet,” she said, flapping her arms uselessly like a hen. Around her, the ruckus only grew louder.

And then Jan Blair lifted her head. Only a little, just enough for her eyes to peer out from under her bangs. And perhaps her eyes just happened to find mine all the way in the back of the classroom, but it seemed as if she’d met them deliberately. Our gazes locked dead-on. For an awful moment, there was something like recognition…but then I flicked my eyes quickly away.

“The Blair Witch!” I shouted. Only Naomi seemed to notice next to me; she jolted a little in her seat. “The Blair Witch!” I shouted again, the volume and venom in my voice surprising even me.

 

 

For a few hours, the Blair Witch was the
it
thing to talk about. But interest proved to be short-lived, and by day’s end she was mostly forgotten. There were other, more pressing things to talk about, such as who was the best kisser in school, whether Clarice David had gotten a nose job over the summer, and the like.

And because of something that later happened, Jan Blair became the last thing on my mind as well.

Naomi and I had agreed to meet at the library after school. When I got there, it was deserted—even the librarian was gone. I sat down with a newspaper in the periodicals section.

A gust of cold air rushed in, signaling the arrival of Naomi. Only it wasn’t Naomi; the voices that flew in were coarse and choppy.

I never looked up from the paper. But I was no longer reading it; instead, using my peripheral vision, I kept tabs on the three boys who had just ambled in. They went to a nearby table, horsing around. By now they must have noticed me; if not, it was only a matter of time. They ripped pages out of magazines, crumpling them into paper balls, and shot them into a wastebasket located just at the foot of the circulation desk. They shuffled over to a stack of flyers. “Auditions for
The Man from Jerusalem
will begin the week of September 8,” each flyer announced. The boys crumpled these into balls. They seemed preoccupied, and I rose from my chair and picked up my bag. Naomi was to meet me soon, and I wanted to leave before she walked in.

I was almost at the door when my foot banged against a trashcan. It was all too quiet suddenly, and as I reached for the doorknob, a paper ball hit me on the back of my head. Instantly there was an outburst of laughter from behind me. I turned.

It was my first good look at the boys, and nothing about them surprised me. I’d seen their kind a hundred times before. One of them, Trey Logan, was the leader of the gang. I already knew his reputation: a louse who’d once knocked his third grade teacher unconscious with a baseball bat. He was a skinny stick who always wore oversized Wal-Mart clothes. A scuttle of angry red zits lay scattered across his pointy chin. A Mount St. Helens of a pimple was lodged under his right nostril, at least three days overripe.

Logan did not know this yet—no one knew this—but in a few months he would be dead. His name and face would be splashed all over the Internet and newspapers. But he could not possibly have known this now.

“Hey, it’s Jet Li!” Laughter. They were spreading across the room slowly, casting a wider net around me. I could see that they were experienced; they knew their trade, and they were good at what they did. Their next move would be to try to cut me off from the door. But I was also good at what I’d been forced to learn over the years—the art of evasion.

“Hey,” Trey said. His voice was almost kind, that of a grandmotherly librarian. “You forgot to put away the newspaper. It’s the rule.”

All three had moved away from that table. There seemed to be no danger in simply walking back to the newspaper. But I didn’t bite. They’d wait until I reached the paper, and the second I did, they’d move swiftly, as one, not towards me but to the door to barricade it with their bodies. Then I would be trapped. Then they would pounce.

I looked at each boy in turn: they meant to do damage. It was marked in their eyes and slightly crooked elbows.

“Aww, look,” Logan said with false sympathy. “He doesn’t speak. Just like that Virginia Tech killer. Quiet and all.” He leered at me, looking at my bag. “What you got in there? Guns? You’re gonna try to cut us down, just like that Virginia Tech guy?”

I could still walk out the door if I wanted to. Forget what happened. Try to.

“You forgot to pick up your paper balls,” I said, pointing to the cluster lying at the foot of the trashcan in the corner.

“You missed all your shots.” Their faces were momentary portraits of surprise. “Pick them up. It’s the rule.”

They were stumped. These were boys who lacked the intelligence to make a witty verbal comeback; all they knew about retaliation was the fisticuffs kind. They’d expected my Asian tail to tuck between my legs, a submissive china doll to beat up on. They looked at me for a few seconds, then at each other, momentarily confused.

“What did he say?” said the shorter boy. “Was that English?”

“‘Ching chong cha chink chong ah so,’ is what he said,” replied the other.

I spoke again, trying to sound assertive, my voice quivering a little. “Don’t throw paper balls at me.”

“‘
Don’t throw paper balls at me
,’” Logan mocked in a falsetto impersonation. “Please don’t bruise my pretty yellow skin with a paper ball,” he continued. “Me no see ball through my squinty little eyes.” He pulled his arm back and threw another paper ball at me.

The ball whizzed past my head, missing my right ear by about ten feet.

“Please tell me you weren’t aiming for me,” I said. The words, decent enough, I suppose, nonetheless quivered in my eggshell voice.

The three boys began to move in. As they did, something began to wilt in me. Now would be the time to bolt out the door.

But I did not. Years back, in elementary school when the bullying had first begun, I had forced myself never to run, never to cower. Initially, it had been hard, and I’d still ended up running away in tears. But I learned to buoy myself up, to stanch the need to bolt. But all that anger was inflicted on me. Then internalized. I used to wonder about all that anger, where it all went. You can only take in so much. Somehow it has to come out, find release.

The boys edged closer to me now. I dropped my bag to the ground.

At the very second God created me, He must have blinked. And ever since, He’s been blinking a lot; every time something like this happens to me, I’m in one of His blinks.

I’m glad it was the librarian who walked in minutes later and not Naomi. She should never see what the librarian witnessed when she opened the door. Chairs overturned, tables pushed haphazardly to the side, books pulled off shelves onto the floor. Three boys, shirts disheveled, their hair ruffled, their anger unhinged, atop another whose face was hidden, pinned down. Again and again, fists raining down on him. One of them, Trey Logan, on top and straddling me, rabid with a tunnel-vision anger. “What kind of a Jet Li are you?” he yelled, his face beet red. “What the hell kind of a Jet Li are you?”

 

 

Naomi and I walked home in somber silence. The sky, spread above in a velvet expanse, darkened like a bloodying blister. Naomi occasionally glanced sideways at me. My wounds were mostly superficial, the nurse had said, and I was fortunate to not be any worse off. I was lucky, Mr. Marsworth had concurred from where he stood looking out the window, lucky I wasn’t hurt any worse. Those three were very bad boys. Mandatory Saturday detentions, he said, at least four weeks. He nodded his head as he said this, a rooster pulling at its wattle chin.

Truth is, they had no idea how bad it was for me. Under my clothes, my body was a hodgepodge of discolored patches of blue and purple. Every time I took a step and my backpack jiggled against my back, I felt a raw rub of pain sear up and down. My only consolation was
The Punch
—a solid connection that had landed square on Logan’s eyeball. I’d felt the taut liquid bulge of his eye give under my fist, felt his bony eye socket crack under my knuckles. Within minutes after
The Punch
, a huge welt had formed under his quickly blackening eye.

BOOK: Crossing
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